The Follies of Richard Wadsworth by Nick Maandag from Drawn+Quarterly follows three stories of the gracelessness, struggle, and madness of everyday life. “Deadpan” best sums up the humor of the tales with Maandag’s mastery of pacing turning awkward conversations into laugh-out-loud reading. The subtle dialogue and absurd situational comedy will cause readers themselves to have to pause until the groaning chuckles fade. Long after they have finished the book, too, the thoughtful satire will return to make the readers think and laugh again.
Maandag’s art style lends well to the crafting of story and humor. The heavy lines give at once a sense of cartooniness as well as seriousness. Faces are loaded with thought-lines and hatching makes complicated shades to show the weight of the worlds Maandag portrays. Several characters look similar, tying not only into funniness in the story but also giving depth to the themes of the blurry faces of the extras in our lives. His figures have often a stiff posture, which suits the stodgy worlds he satirizes well.
The first story is the titular “The Follies of Richard Wadsworth” that charts a year of a philosopher’s temporary teaching position. Wadsworth faces struggles of fitting in and being recognized amid the arguments of his peers, but his biggest opponent is himself. He mistakes the janitor for the dean, and vice-versa, to hilarious and tragic results. Crushing on a student, he dons a mask to visit her at work, nearly getting away with it if not for his own friendliness. After getting himself into trouble with the police, the story does have a profoundly happy ending about the purity of understanding oneself.
“Night School” stands as the second story, moving from Wadsworth’s social hangovers to the surreal. Students in a business class face overbearing definitions and groupings, discussing the different types of intellectual ability-based initiatives like cognitive intellectual ability-based initiatives and perceptual intellectual ability-based initiatives. With the reader’s head spinning, insanity floods the classroom such as a false-alarm fire, hornets, and punishments for interrupting including painting a whole hallway and eating five stuffed squirrels.
The final story is “The Disciple,” in which a young monk at a sexually integrated monastery struggles to control his thoughts and urges. The master seems very harsh, such as taking away the seat at the table for Brother Bananas, a monkey who wandered in from the forest, and chastising another disciple for using toilet paper. Yet he proves to be more than a demanding authoritarian, bringing another satirical take on the structures our society builds and props up with public notions few actually believe.
The Follies of Richard Wadsworth rereads well thanks to Maandag’s rich themes and skillful pacing. The stories become familiar, like streaming a favorite sitcom, while maintaining their impact thanks to the ridiculousness of our world. We often already know how horribly things will end up, but at least we have a story to look back on and laugh.