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By Brandy Dykhuizen. The most endearing, frustrating and downright pathological aspects of being an artist are the moments in which you’re unstuck from your own reality. A painter looks away from his canvass at a room full of dull hues. A phone call jolts a writer away from the voices on the page. A research scientist pours over her histochemical staining for so long that entire universes appear within a kidney sample. As an artist, this is Poodwaddle’s world, but it is a world created, written, and illustrated by Ted McKeever. Poodwaddle contends with characters of his own making, but it all takes a physical turn when he snoozes on top of a recently drawn panel, intermixing fresh ink with a pool of his own drool.

 As devoted to the craft as he is, he just can’t seem to get a break. Editors will be editors, and his status as a freelancer puts him in no high esteem. His artistic license is given Dangerfieldian respect as a smattering of Zoom! Boom! Rat-a-tat-tats! are splashed all over his conspicuously superhero-free works. He has a lot on his mind. So McKeever uses this angst to blend the odd characters Poodwaddle encounters on the street with the cast of weirdos quickly forming in our hero’s head. We discover that men from Mars, stunted policemen, and choking strippers are decidedly capable gatekeepers to assist in traversing realities.

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Early on, Poodwaddle’s dreamlike state is described as “a recoiling motion, as if immersed in a thick, impeding liquid,” as he quietly drools onto his work. This perfectly describes that maddening dream state wherein you cannot escape the zombies, you cannot find the basement before the tornado arrives. It also summarizes Poodwaddle’s state of entrapment within the ink, both the literal stickiness of the black liquid mixed with the fluids on his face, and his more ethereal entrapment within the world his mind constantly creates around him — the creatures drawing lines between himself and his destination.

The self-referential meta-jokiness of Pencil Head is extremely well executed. Aside from being a comic about the comic industry, it’s also a work that references and pokes fun at itself. About halfway through we encounter three nighttime panels, replete with noirish, seamy city imagery (above a cleverly-named corner store — Hell Toupee). Suspense and tensions are high after an unfortunate turn of events at the local gentlemen’s club. McKeever leads directly into the action and provides context within the narrative: “Later that same night,” followed by the tongue-in-cheek “Atop the apartment building from two panels back.” Just when we get too far into Poodwaddle’s world, we are yanked back into our appropriate reality. Only time will tell if Poodwaddle will be afforded the same luxury, or if his worlds and creatures will merge beyond recognizable differences. Either way, Pencil Head is sure to deliver a slick and thoroughly enjoyable account of all this madness.

Image Comics/$3.99

Written and illustrated by Ted McKeever.

9 out of 10

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