The Life of Norman is a dark comedy/horror graphic novel from Titan Comics, created, written, drawn, and colored by native Frenchman Stan Silas. It’s a (dis)respectfully lurid tale about Norman, a young, flaxen-haired boy with no conscience and a stabby disposition.
In this, Norman’s second volume, our big-headed, crazy-eyed protagonist (?) sets out for a fun-filled, blood-bathed weekend at a local lumberjack festival (yes, LUMBERJACK FESTIVAL) along with several of his classmates and his slutty, alcoholic teacher, Ms. Jameson, who has enlisted her bartender, Manny, to serve as the groups’ driver. You know, just the standard comic book fare.
Along the way the gang experiences various kinds of misfortune, some god-awful scary storytelling around the good ol’ spare tire-fire, and, of course, disembowelment. The wildly inappropriate is treated as common laugh-fuel. Children are abandoned and left to fend for themselves in the middle of a town full of rusty saws of various shapes and sizes, and at least one giant mutant dog. A weekend on par with your average lumberjack festival, I’d imagine.
The story begins with a fun ‘cold open,’ as we observe a young geek lose his head over a half-naked hottie, who then loses her foot and is promptly eaten by Norman’s zombie uncle Cyril, who clearly likes his meat rare. All the while little Norman is busy dismantling what we can only assume is a human corpse, in his bathtub, with a hacksaw, and a cute demon on his shoulder.
There are some genuinely funny, as well as disturbing, moments in this scene, and it serves as an apt intro to the particular brand of psycho-tyke Norman is for those who haven’t read the previous storyline. Unfortunately, that accessibility doesn’t carry over into every aspect of this volume, as there are several instances where I was left scratching my head, re-reading, and wondering if there was perhaps a linguistic disconnect between Stan Silas’ brain and the printed page. Ultimately I realized there were story elements from volume one which the reader must possess to make any sense of certain aspects of volume two.
Oh well. C’est la vie… de Norman.
While I’m in brutally-honest mode, there were an almost unforgivable amount of typos and punctuation errors. Anyone who reads comics knows to expect some occasional issues when it comes to the contents of word balloons, but this book was exceptionally riddled with these kinds of issues. I am, however, willing to be extra forgiving if the creator/writer/penciler/inker/colorist is also doing the lettering, in a
language which is secondary to his native tongue, which I believe is the case. But Stan, if you’re reading this, I would say now is the time to hire a letterer, and if you already have, maybe get a new one.
Whoa… you say, I’m being a big meanie, you say? Nonsense, I wear a medium t- shirt, size 9.5 shoes, and I’m barely average height. There’s simply no way I—oh, the meanie part. Okay, fine. Let me tell you what is great about this book.
Almost everything I haven’t ragged on yet! See, I am nice.
To be specific, the coloring is really perfect for this book, and very well done. I don’t know if Mr. Silas has any formal training in digital coloring, but this book looks great. While I’m not a huge fan of this manga-meets-Calvin-and-Hobbes style, he does it very well. I’d imagine anyone with a hankerin’ to see the manga version of the Peanuts crew get caught in a B-horror flick in the form of a comic would be hog wild for Stan’s art style. Seriously, he really is a great artist, and he’s humble about it too. In our interview with Stan, he mentioned several times that he lacked confidence in his artistic skills, but really, he’s pretty darn good, and getting better.
Moving on to the writing. The story is fun and fast-paced, albeit a bit hard to follow at times, and the humor is hit or miss for me. There are some laughs to be had, but some jokes fall flat, which I suspect is at least partially due to the highly colloquial nature of humor. That said, comedy is like a machine gun, not a sniper rifle. You just gotta fire out as many rounds as possible and hope some of them hit, and as a writer of funny myself, I know all too well that some jokes will kill in one room, but die in another.
So, more of concern to me are the jokes that shouldn’t be told, and there are a couple of gags in this book that cross a line for me. For one, child abuse isn’t really ha-ha funny. It’s actually not any kind of funny. So I found it odd that one of the running jokes revolved around Sylvia’s abusive father, ya know, abusing her. Stanger still is that time when Norman chopped the head off of a real baby. I understand that trying to murder his 8-year-old classmates is already pretty dark territory, but lopping off an infant’s head… I don’t know. Maybe this is funny, and having kids has ruined it for me, but I don’t think that’s it. Moving on.
The book ends with something of a humorous twist, which serves to punctuate a dark story with a bit of levity, and I thank Mr. Silas for that. Although there were some confusing elements toward the end, like… who is Herbert? Is he the same Herbert Ms. Jameson mentions toward the start of the book? If so… what?
Alright, folks, here’s where I tell you if you should pick up the book.
I’ll just put it like this, if you like your horror cartoony, or your cartoons horrory, and dark comedy isn’t quite dark enough for you… meaning you aren’t squeamish about your humor bypassing the entire gray area and diving headlong into the sea of unquestionably black area, then Norman is the book for you!