In reading Tom Hart’s New Hat Stories, despair is conveniently packaged into pleasurably digestible pages containing a stingy amount of panels. The protagonist is Barney, a beret wearing employee of a poster shop. Nearing middle age, he is a horny single guy, living with his sick dog, Oliver. When he isn’t fantasizing about getting into dangerous situations (plane crashes, sinking boats), Barney rents movies and scopes out the local women. In a bout of spontaneity, Barney leaves the safety of
behind, opting to take on the dangers of
during hurricane season.
The cartoonist performs an amazing feat by employing very few panels per page. In spreading out the panels, sometimes even leaving only one panel within a page, Hart forces the reader to dwell on a scene before moving forward. When Barney expresses his mad passion for Harrison Ford’s adventure in
, the video clerk’s puzzled expression leads into the next page, revealing a lone panel of Barney obliviously moving on to his next order of business. The dialogue, combined with the layout, reveals a man who is unaware of his outward appearance.
If Barney’s crumbly life seems realistic, the peripheral characters reinforce this sense of normalcy. Everyone from police officers to priests to hotel dwelling strangers makes small talk and shares their feelings. Unfortunately for Barney, those feelings are usually either misinformed or hostile.
Hart’s artwork is unique and simple. There is a dialed down sensibility to the illustrations. All male character sport flared nostrils, while all women have more pointy noses. No-one has pupils in their eyes, except for Aleki, Barney’s protégé. The artwork is just as unique as the author’s storytelling.
The book is a quick read, but stays with you for a little while longer. New Hat Stories is a thinking man’s comic, and for that, it should be commended.