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This week, columnist and critic Mark Squirek introduces us to Percy Gloom...

Percy Gloom and
Wake Up, Percy Gloom
Fantagraphics; $18.95 and $28.99

With his rumpled business suit, oversized ears, slightly dented hat and noticeable lazy eye Percy Gloom resembles either a drunken Catskills comedian one last job away from disappearing due to gambling debts or a close cousin of Tom Waits emerging from a malfunctioning trash compactor.

In truth he is neither, for Percy Gloom is really a child. He was born to a woman who is an immortal and a man who arrives at a different choice in life. Packed in a body that looks closer to sixty than six, little Gloom wanders the world in search of a job and later his life’s love, Miss Margaret.

The second volume recounting the wonderful life of Percy Gloom is set to hit book and comic stores in June, 2013. Published by Fantagraphics, Wake Up Percy Gloom by writer and artist Cathy Malkasian tells the second chapter in Percy Gloom’s life with power, philosophy and a sense of wonder.

Where volume one centered on the early years of Percy’s life, his adjustment to the world and his discovery of exactly who he is, Wake Up Percy Gloom brings a more mature Gloom into the picture. He has been working in the world for a while now and has grown used to the vagaries and inconsistencies of those around him.

But he still holds an amazing sense of wonder, bordering on naiveté creating a complex character that we can all identify with. This new chapter functions easily as a stand alone story while building on the myths and characters created in volume one.

An award winning animator and comic artist with a wide breadth of experiences (she was the co-director of the Wild Thornberry’s Movie and worked for years on Curious George as well as Duckman and Rugrats), Malkasian fills the story with multiple levels, never once making any of them obvious. Her experience as an animator shines through as her pencil and panel construction holds an incredible sense of movement inside a graphic novel format.

Every page moves with a naturalness to the action that pulls you along effortlessly. The story unfolds as if you are in an otherworldly dreamscape. Percy’s world is a place that conforms to the natural rules of the real world (both physical and social) while looking as if it is part of a child’s twilight zone.

While he may look like an adult Malkasian never allows us to forget that Gloom is a child. When he is hurt he seeks comfort from the adult around him. When confronted by a bully (as he is in volume 1) he stutters and becomes filled with fear, questioning the experience, trying to understand what is happening in his own somewhat limited way.

The artist skillfully conveys the physical smallness of being a child. As Percy travels through towns and across slightly surreal countryscapes he often shrinks across the horizon. At the same time she also plays on the idea that death can shrink us as well. Her portrayal of how mortals pass (and how we choose to perceive the inevitable passage that death is) includes the idea that as we shrink in life force, we may be also shrinking physically as well.

The second chapter finds Percy awakening from a long nap. He neither knows how long he has been out or how long he will stay awake. More than anything he is worried that he may have lost the love of his life, Miss Margaret. 

Inside every Percy Gloom story is a subtle weaving of philosophy, a wonder at our place in the world, acute observations about what it means to be alive and telling stories of how we interact with each other as we travel through our individual lives. Malkasian gives the weight of her subject matter an appropriate light touch with her pencil, allowing the art to reinforce her story as opposed to controlling or even dominating it.

Her ability to adjust shades, to create such expressive faces, to showcase massive skies and far reaching hills as well as intimate gatherings and crowded towns gives the narrative a wonder that places the story of Percy Gloom among the best found in the graphic novel format.

At her best, Malkasian fills the reader with a sense that our lives do matter, that the sight of apples falling from a tree can elicit uncontrollable joy from both an old man and a baby. She makes singing goats seem real and also reminds us that the bureaucratic mindset of a government employee is as important to the world as those who bake muffins.

Wake Up Percy Gloom can speak to a six year old and make them laugh uncontrollably while at the same time bringing a smile to the face of a parent for a completely different reason.

More than a fable, Percy Gloom is part of story telling myth that can be traced back to campfires around a cave. This is an inspiring work that speaks to all levels of our existence.