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Harvey Knight's Odyssey

Graphic Novel Review: ‘Harvey Knight’s Odyssey’ by Nick Maandag from Drawn+Quarterly

Harvey Knight’s Odyssey by Nick Maandag, published by Drawn and Quarterly, tells three tales that could only be told by Maandag. Like his previous work, The Follies of Richard Wadsworth, the collection features several stories that show drama and even horror in the mundane alongside the mind-boggling surreal. At times, the trio of stories seem like they could play out in real life. At others, Maandag moves into speculative fiction with deep world-building, all the while maintaining his nonchalant voice even in the shock of murder.

The First Story

Harvey Knight's Odyssey

The first story in Harvey Knight’s Odyssey, “The Plunge,” depicts a man burned out on spending too much money and time in line just to get bad restaurant coffee. He brings his French press into work, much to the amazement of his coworkers.

They marvel at his methods, asking him repeatedly to show how it works. They begin setting their schedules to ensure they can be present for his early afternoon coffee-making. Eventually “the plunge” becomes a company event, packing in coworkers to marvel at something so ordinary that others carry on the interest like people admiring an emperor’s new clothes.

In the titular “Harvey Knight’s Odyssey,” Maandag leaves the office to explore the world of religious groups. The story opens on a meeting of the Church of the Holy Radiance, where the master explains their theology concerning the existence of light opposing dark. The dichotomy gives two sides to the universe, a joyous brightness and wicked darkness, which created humans as perfect balance between the two. The church members seek perfect light, ironically getting deep tans as they spend so much time in UV beds.

As the master introduces his assistant, the forgetful Harvey Knight, the narrative picks up with the master’s personal bed mysteriously disappearing from the tanning room. The theft reveals increasingly dark truths, and the church becomes erratic under Harvey’s leadership with scientific experiments and a promotional play, “Harvey and the Amazingly Multi-hued Human Flesh Coat.”

Harvey Knight’s Odyssey’s third story, “Full Day,” returns to the office, though it is difficult to tell what is mundane and what is surreal, just as we often experience in our own lives. The protagonist Nick loses his hat to a street sweeper, is struck by erratic elevator doors, and faces a continuous onslaught from the internal audit department’s efficiency check, unhelpful strangers, and verbal questionnaires with interviewers who demand impossibly precise answers to vague questions.

The standout scene is a monologue from the boss telling everyone in the company that they are like family before proceeding to show numerous examples of how families can shrink by people leaving them.

Through each of the stories in Harvey Knight’s Odyssey, Maandag drives the narrative with graphics fitting for the theme. His bold-inked lines hint a zine style, yet with precision that makes the images seem like a more commonplace comic. Just as in the stories, the mundane is betrayed by the insanity in our worlds and lives that is utterly inexplicable and often of our own creation. Maandag’s textures fill the panels, even using white space as a texture to show emptiness.

Some of the patterns become so complex that characters may blend into the background, shown especially well in cubicles where people can often do just that.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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