Max Overacts, Vol. One: Hold On to Your Stubs

Caanan Grall
Caanan Grall. Occasional Comics, $19.95 paper (164p) ISBN 978-0-9879042-0-1
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With this collection of his Eisner-nominated Web comics, Grall proves himself to be a superb sequential artist, but a middling writer. The early strips in Grall's compendium owe significant debt to Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes. Certain sequences align almost perfectly with Watterson's work—e.g., when Max writes his autobiography with the help of a ventriloquist dummy. These similarities are frustrating because Grall is a terrific comic artist in his own right. His artwork is clean, his visual storytelling is always clear, and the characters he illustrates are wonderfully emotive. The comic works best when Grall frees himself from the shackles of Watterson's influence. But while some strips are sweetly humorous and original, others are just not funny. Often Grall settles on the easiest joke, relying on the wits of characters that are often not witty. When Max spends nine panels negotiating with his ventriloquist dummy, then bemoans to his mother that the puppet isn't talking, Max's mother responds: "I know a psychiatrist who'll talk to you." It's a long setup for a weak payoff.
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