Every week From the Longbox reexamines stories that have been lost in the shuffle of today’s comic market. The mini-series or story arcs that aren’t as well known as Watchmen or Sandman, but are damn good reads. Many of these stories are written or drawn by some of the top creators of today, but may have come out before they really broke out. These hidden gems are all worth finding in trades or the back issue bins of your local comic shop. Mild spoilers to follow.
Puffed by John Layman & Dave Crosland
The only reason I even bought Puff when it came out was because Frank Quietly did the cover. I had never heard of John Layman, but something about a guy who is stuck inside a giant dragon costume seemed to have potential. Originally published as a three issue mini-series, Puffed is a black comedy with some shockingly dark and gritty moments. I feel it’s a humor comic first, and never takes itself all too seriously. There are however some twisted things that Layman puts some of the characters through. Some of the characters motivations are down tight psychotic. Definitely way outside the mainstream, Puffed is an entertaining view of one man’s bad day gone horribly wrong.
Aaron is just a normal dude who works a shitty job at a small town amusement park. He has the honor of dressing up as various park characters in the giant costumes. When Aaron arrives late yet again, his boss punishes him by giving him the oldest, smelliest, most uncomfortable suit the park has. He gets to be Puff. Puff is like a drugged out version of Barney. When his coworker Trish tells him to try and have a good day, her crazy stalker Seaton takes it upon himself to warn Aaron to stay away. After a long and grueling day at the amusement park, all Aaron wants to do is get the damn suit off. Seaton heads him off saying their boss needs help with something. One harsh beating and a 69 mile car ride later and Seaton is dumping Aaron off in Da Big City. It looks like the most run-down, ghetto parts of New York City you could imagine.
Hilarity ensues as Aaron wakes up to his new surroundings stuck in a giant dragon costume. You need someone to help you get out of the suit and Aaron is trying to convince anyone to help him get out of Puff so he can take a much needed piss. Soon Aaron wonders down the wrong alley and witnesses something he wasn’t supposed to see. Aaron escapes through some very odd circumstances and finds himself in a bar begging for a drink and some help. The story takes a more serious turn here as one patron shares his sob story with Aaron in an attempt to make his shitty day not seem so bad. After exiting the bar Aaron is met by the same thugs he was running from, the poor guy can’t catch a break. The story has several endings/epilogues which tie up things with several characters. The best is the first epilogue when Aaron gets into an argument with a guy dressed as a giant cell phone.
Dave Crosland handles the art for the series in fantastic black and white. His style for this book reminds me of Jim Mahfood. Many of his characters have greatly exaggerated features and facial expressions. His city scenes all have a sort of dirty cartoon feel to them. Buildings are curved and misshapen, but it all fits the general style of the book very well. Crosland even turns in some panels with remarkable levels of detail. It’s not all as consistent as you would like, but I think Crosland just wanted to chose when he upped his level of detail to highlight certain panels.
Puffed is one dark and goofy read. Sometimes it’s nice just to read about a dude whose luck is worse than yours. It will make you laugh and it will make you pity a man dressed as a giant green dragon. Puffed isn’t all jokes and gags. There are lessons learned about not quitting and never feeling sorry for yourself. Any John Layman fan needs to give Puff a look, just to see what he was up to before Chew became such a hit. If you try it and like it, there is even a sequel. A one-shot called Stay Puffed.
Follow Brad on Twitter @BradWiegele.