It's not very cool to like artists that favor style over content. Cartoonists like Vaughn Bode and Henriette Valium assault the senses in a way that goes beyond serving a narrative, but their works are invariably criticized as empty or trivial. Marc Bell will probably get the same arrows shot his way, and he won't deserve a one. His SHRIMPY AND PAUL has all the wonderful qualities of a work in which one loses itself -- unique figure design, well-paced movement, and a subconscious reference to the over-ripe animations of the 1920s and 1930s. It has the added benefit of being a fascinating read.
Shrimpy is small and mean; Paul is larger and gentle. They make their home in a world that percolates with life in the freaked out manner of an old Warner Brothers cartoon. Little men zip by in cars on the sidewalk, tiny aliens do battle near a picnic site, and the method of getting into a house involves interfacing with an organic watchdog. Shrimpy's overwhelming selfishness provides much of the humor, a kind of blank-faced application of nastiness for gain that comes and goes because arbitrary greed is even funnier. He seems to suffer less for his position than Paul does for his, making life as Bell depicts more selectively than arbitrarily cruel. The stories presented here are snippets of bad behavior played for comic effect, some coming quickly to the point, and others continuing on for page after page of dire consequence and mad scrambles to restore order. Surrounded by a library of works that engage issues in a very straightforward way, it proves very comfortable to read Marc Bell's application of beauty in the pursuit of idiocy.
Tom Spurgeon is a writer living in Silver City, New Mexico. He can be found online at The Comics Reporter.