Posted by Don MacPherson on November 12th, 2006
Action Figure; From the Journals of Richard Marzelak #1
Writer/Artist/Cover Artist: Richard Marcej
Publisher: Baboon Books
Price: $3.50 US/$4.40 CAN
Commercial artist Richard Marcej has long dreamed of a life in which he earns a living as a comic-strip artist, freed from the shackles of a job with a major toy/greeting card company. He has taken those dreams and aspirations, as well as his anger and frustrations, and focused them into a slice-of-life comic that’s autobiographical (for the most part). Anyone who works in a restrictive office environment or who spends his or her offtime working on what he or she really loves will be able to relate to Marcej’s story. Unfortunately, the overall tone of this introductory issue is so negative that it’s a bit off-putting, even when one can relate to the main character’s bitterness.
Almost five decades from now, a collector attending an estate sale discovers boxes full of journals, each containing the personal thoughts of his favorite cartoonist, Richard Marzelak. One of the earlier books contains a harsh and frank remembrance of the artist’s time working for Hasmark, under the supervision of a petty, hateful manager who seemed to have it in for him personally. Marzelak clearly hated the job, but he found pleasure in toiling away at his drawing board at home, crafting a variety of comic strips, despite repeated rejections from newspaper syndicates.
Marcej’s artwork is generally cartoony in tone, but he tries to tone down his exaggerated leanings to achieve a somewhat more grounded look for this workplace story. He doesn’t entirely succeed, but that’s OK, because the characters’ actions and reactions tend to be exaggerated in tone anyway. If anything, Marcej works too achieve a realistic tone. The art is often cluttered and busy, and simpler backgrounds would certainly make it easier for the reader to see his or her own workplace in Marzelak’s, therefore making it easier to relate to his trials and tribulations. Overall, his style reminds me a little of Richard (Deadbeats) Howell’s artwork.
Marcej’s script boasts a number of flaws. The future scene that serves as the launchpad for the book isn’t not only unnecessary but rather self-important. It paints the protagonist as being ultimately successful in his quest for financial success and fame. In essence, Marcej’s reveals the story’s ending first, and the vision of the perfect life to come makes it more difficult to feel for Richard during the tough times that serve as the focus of the story. Furthermore, Marcej doesn’t seem to explore the humor in office politics. Instead, the main character wallows in his anger and bitterness… over and over and over again.
Mind you, it’s not hard for one to see oneself in the circumstances of Marzelak’s life. We’ve all had bosses who have seemed to delight in assigning us menial tasks we see as being beneath us. We’ve all felt that awkwardness around attractive co-workers, and we’ve all had daydreams such as Richard’s. Furthermore, when we see finally see Richard full of energy at his own drawing board at home, we not only can relate to his passion but we admire it as well.
Life imitates art when it comes to Action Figure and creator Richard Marcej. Just as his protagonist contends with rejection notices, so has Marcej had to deal with the decision of Diamond Comic Distributors to pass on carrying his book. He’s trying to spread the word, working on creating a grassroots buzz online, and I think it might even be working to some limited extent. This, for example, is far from the first online review of his book.
Ultimately, I think the flaws in this book stem from the same source: Marcej’s creative isolation. It’s clearly a personal matter to him, but I think he’d be well served by working with an editor, or even a co-writer, someone who can bring some humor to the mix. The premise lends itself to laughs, and Marcej ought to try and capitalize on that potential. His passion as a creator shines through, but I wonder if it might blind him to other possibilities. 5/10
For more information on Richard Marcej, Action Figure or to purchase, visit the Baboon Books website.