Joe Ollmann, 242 pages, Conundrum Press, www.conundrumpress.com, $20.00
With his new collection of graphic short stories, Hamilton-based cartoonist Joe Ollmann returns with his peculiar brand of dark humour and biting cynicism. Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People is anything but; we are thrown into a world where the boredom of living is replaced by the horror of living. Do not expect any heroes or knights in shining armor: just a ragtag collection of men and women struggling past their fair share of existential angst and briefly rising above it.
You sense a bit of Ollmann in all of his characters. His penchant for self-deprecation and self-reflection is apparent in his short introduction, presented in the same style as his stories. His illustrations are rather rough and cartoony, quite fitting considering his rather capital A Absurd (think Camus) plots.
Loyal fans will recognize some of these tales from his older short story collections Chewing on Tinfoil and This Will End in Tears. His newest additions, “Johnny Pinetop” and “Otherwise, Arachis Hypogaea”, are just as representative of his rather bleak vision of the human experience. The first follows Gary Bunet, the less-than-mediocre cleft-lipped ventriloquist. The second depicts the life of Devi, a young Southeast Asian girl with a deathly allergy to peanuts.
These characters do not invite us to pity them. On the contrary, their acute self-awareness reveals a sense of stubborn perseverance in the face of unending trials and tribulations. They may be broken, but they survive: a somewhat hopeful message in the midst of all this darkness.