Stark Plug is a comic strip cartoon who works in an office during the day, and is constantly told by his boss that he will never get a raise. Yet he toils until he decides that it’s time for a career change. He becomes a dad with a cat like in those sitcom comic strips that dads like to read while smoking a pipe and wearing an ascot. But the cartoon cats in the strip have a mind of their own and soon, Stark’s dream is threatened. Can Stark Plug reach his dreams? Hey, there’s more to this comic but you have to read it first!
First, I have to say that I am delighted to read another comic by Steve Chappell. I first reviewed his other book Stark Reality way back in 2005. I like writing this because sometimes I feel like people think I’m lying about how old the Bin is! We’re that old! It takes a reminder of having worked and reviewed the work of a cartoonist over a decade ago to remind you that you have done this kind of work and hopefully left a mark and made a difference in the world.
I’m glad that Chappell trusts me with his new book which contains many strips taken from his web comic. Chappell is best understood as a classic cartoonist with a story of his own to tell and who is not afraid of the absurd, this old friend of the cartoonist. But nowadays, cartoonists are pressured into making readily consumable chunks of greatness without requiring any effort from the reader.
Chappell is the anti-Bill Watterson. He’s a cartoonist who like Watterson and his Calvin and Hobbes dwells in the gutters of alienation. But Watterson had a recipe to easily make people swallow alienation and the absurd. Chappell is closer to the contrarian vibes of the hippy who had to get back in the ranks and find a job, allowing his cartoons to only see the light of day on weekends and with close friends. Drawing alienation was not funny for Chappell nor does it seem, something that made him rich.
Is Chappell the ominous cartoonist who has lost control of the strip when the senior cat started experimenting with catnip again? We don’t know, but Stark Plug almost lost everything in that debacle. Even falling naked and almost getting arrested by the police wasn’t enough. Chappell as the cartoonist slips a couple of political message about the police and the rest of the absurdity that is life in the 2010s. But it’s so subtle and you might not take him nor Stark Plug seriously enough and just miss it.
It’s a book about alienation and there are few comics like this around anymore. Chappell totally embraces the political cartoon style that he was probably struggling with over a decade ago. The cartoons are mature and no longer questioning themselves. Well, they do. Stark Plug does question the length of his nose in one of the strips.
Most of you will be afraid to try this book. I wasn’t. This is what cartooning is about and why we like this medium. I’m glad that there are still guys like Steve Chappell willing to challenge their alienation and share how it feels with absurd cartoons about guys who work office job.