Mr. Colostomy by Matthew Thurber leaps off the web into the physical world in the new collection published by Drawn+Quarterly. Mr. Colostomy took life originally as a serialized web comic strip running from 2017 to 2019 on Instagram and Patreon, truly an artistic creation of the modern times in its ability to reach audiences directly all over the world at once. Each comic was created within a public space, which lends its energy to the surreal noir that is the quixotic world of art-detective Mr. Colostomy.
As part of the direct touch of audience and creator, Thurber describes Mr. Colostomy as a parapraxic production. The notion borrows from the psychological principle of parapraxis, which is used in an attempt to scientifically describe humans’ tendencies toward momentary forgetfulness or misspeaking that reveals deeper hidden meaning. Rather than painstakingly working out details or revising drawings again and again, Mr. Colostomy makes a celebration of the “mistake,” running with it to see where it will go. Thanks to that freedom, there is nowhere the comic cannot explore.
Armed with the ability to roll on in any direction, Mr. Colostomy gains another powerhouse of storytelling techniques styled after Scheherazade, the legendary narrator of One Thousand and One Nights. Stories continue with surprising twists that lead the characters in a new direction of the plot. Or characters bring up a stories of their own, creating multilevel narratives through flashbacks woven into flashbacks before climbing back into the main line of plot. This unruly nature allows for even more freedom where not only can anything happen: it must.
The overarching tale of Mr. Colostomy begins with a man riding a bicycle vertically up a wall as he journeys to visit his sister, establishing the surreal yet familial sensibilities that run through the chaos of the narrative. Its primary character is a horse-mouse working as an art detective and sometimes mail-carrier seeking the answers to mysteries like who is the person in a portrait. He is also asked to locate missing children, a task made all the more difficult thanks to their mad scientist father who tampered with their DNA such that the kids turn to loose clouds of atomic particles each night. The search is sidetracked again and again with a rampaging ram and departures into the dreamscape and the year 1946. Side-characters often take up the protagonist role time and again, such as Groomfiend, the rascally mouse who himself becomes a hotel detective, and Officer Prone, a dog cop with a bad gambling habit.
While Mr. Colostomy experiments with storytelling and form for an unpredictable direction, it also serves as a quintessential example of the four-panel comic strip. The form flows engagingly with first-panel hooks, shifting perspective in the middle panels, and punch-lines leaving the reader laughing out loud from the unexpected nature of the absurd. Where else might one learn of the Squck, the time-traveling creature that boasts the power of a squirrel and the wisdom of a duck!