The world does not need more superhero comics. It also doesn’t need weird little illustrated novellas halfway between The Poor Man’s Almanac and an old volume of Edgar Allan Poe poems with captioned picture plates. But I’d much rather more of have the latter than the former, which is why I was so pleased to read Tom Pappalardo’s Broken Lines: Book One. It’s the story of a waitress who hooks up with a spaceman and a cowboy to transport a vampire across the country in a rented moving truck. If you’re either confused or irritated by the concept thus far, reading the book in its entirety will alleviate neither condition.
So, it’s a good thing that Pappalardo’s humor strikes such a chord with me. It probably won’t with some people, primarily the type that buys Friends on DVD and goes to Adam Sandler movies on opening day, but those that prefer a more literary type of humor will find something to appreciate in Broken Lines. That’s not to suggest that the book relies on high-brow pretension; quite the opposite is true. While Pappalardo clearly appreciates the finer points in humor specific to the written word, and has steeped Broken Lines in various literary traditions that suggest he’s at least walked by a library or two, the sense of humor is truly absurd, and references to modern culture both high and low pepper the pages. At a hefty 70-plus pages, that’s a lot of pepper.
But what’s most arresting about this independently published book is its design. Not only has Pappalardo apparently read a few books, he’s also paid quite a bit of attention to their layout and design. From the dry edition notes on the back of the title page to the chapter breaks, every element of the book has a unified sense of style, best described as ‘olde thyme’, so detailed it belies the independent nature of the book. The illustrations are varied but consistent, alternating between diagrams, comic pages that bridge gaps in the prose, and illustrations with captions so absurdly chosen ("About halfway through Yojimbo" being my personal favorite) they complement the book’s sense of humor perfectly. The spaceman is cute, the cowboy, who we’ve met before in Pappalardo and Matt Smith’s excellent Famous Fighters, is suitably gruff, and the waitress character is almost as baffled as the reader is. The only real downside to the book is its rather abrupt end, which stops short as if a filmstrip caught fire halfway through the final reel. Broken Lines is ostensibly book one of four, but the build up doesn’t work, because we’re not left teetering on the edge of a cliffhanger, but rather thinking a few pages got left out at the printers. But though the end is confusingly sudden, the reader is still left wanting more, so while the world may not need any more superhero comics, it may need at least one more illustrated novella.