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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Adorable Characters Meet Phantasmagorical Alcohol Bender in Zak Sally's Sammy the Mouse

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2012 at 10:30 AM

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A hapless mouse is our everyman figure, and an antagonistic duck prone to bouts of rage shows up at inopportune moments to make demands and empty threats. There's also a dog -- a sweet-natured, loyal friend to the mouse. But despite the way it sounds, you can't expect anything cozy or familiar from Zak Sally's Sammy the Mouse.

Unlike the Disney-based templates upon which writer-artist Sally grafts his story, the world of Sammy the Mouse is far from a sunny or nostalgic daydream. It's a nightmarish, unpredictable horror show where a persistent but gentle God-like voice commands Sammy to his destiny while everyone else seems to harbor dangerous, unspeakable secrets.

Sammy the Mouse, Book 1, is a self-published collection of three issues put out in magazine form by Fantagraphics beginning in 2007. The book, personally printed by Sally and released by his La Mano outfit in Minneapolis, has a distinctive, inviting hand-crafted look and feel. The back flap disclaims that the author printed each copy on an AB Dick 9810 two-color offset press. The book's production and release was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign.

Sally's art is reproduced in brown and blue tones that cast layers of grit and melancholy over Sammy's world. Our protagonist spends most of the narrative struggling to understand the whys and wherefores of his existence while being ordered about by a persistent unseen voice and haunted by a death-faced cretin who appears repeatedly, under mysterious and threatening circumstances.

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This helps explains why Sammy is so put-upon, haggard, and prone to drink. Yet he's not as dependent upon alcohol as the terrifyingly unstable H.G. Feekes, a ferocious, frothing duck in an Abraham Lincoln costume. Along with his sickly pal Puppy Boy, Sammy and Feekes' watering hole of choice is a hollowed-out baby -- complete with spinal support beam.

The baby bar is just one feature of Sammy's phantasmagorical world. Tumbledown mansions line crooked streets, while sidewalks are skyways that traverse whole neighborhoods. Just about everyone is some kind of hobo; no one is well-off or comfortable. But Sally leavens the mood with some (dark) humor that pokes fun at our expectations of the familiar character types.

Sammy is concerned about Puppy Boy, who has been missing on and off for some time. Puppy tells Sammy he's working on a project -- and that's all he tells him. The secret project, the death-faced stalker, and odd events that suggest some kind of interdimensional permeation: How does it all add up?

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In Book 1, Sally does not answer any of these questions. Like the TV series Lost, Sammy's story is established in a world jam-packed with tantalizing interconnected plot threads. At the close of Book 1, there's no telling how these threads will play out -- but readers are provided with enough information to know that Sammy's world is on the brink of some form of soul-shattering change. The stakes are high, and Book 2, due later this year, promises to continue Sammy's Gilliam-esque adventures. There's more than enough strange promise in Book 1 to guarantee that we'll pick up whatever Sally puts out next.

Follow Casey Burchby and SF Weekly's Exhibitionist blog on Twitter.

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Casey Burchby

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