I Will Bite You! may be the hardest collection of comics to review to date. The stories dramatically vacillate in narrative and illustration style with very few words used in each one.
After gaining acclaim for his short comic, Turtle Keep It Steady! (which is included in this collection), Joseph Lambert pulled together some of his early work for his first book, I Will Bite You!. Though the collection is somewhat randomly assembled and a bit disjointed like a young artist’s portfolio, it showcases Lambert’s great potential as a comic book artist and author with a distinct voice, with his strength stemming from his wildly whimsical style and imagination.
There’s not too much to analyze about each of the stories, so in the spirit of the textually minimal narrative methods in I Will Bite You!, I will give you a short overview of each of the stories in three or fewer sentences. Let’s see if I can accomplish this….
I Will Bite You!
This is the title comic, and it is a perfect one about a little boy who has an insatiable desire to bite everyone he sees. Funny and beautifully illustrated, it introduces Lambert’s favorite motif of elements of nature as sentient beings interacting with humans and his own strange sense of humor when it comes to the creatures of his imagination.
After School Snacks
Probably the funniest, most innovative, and most grotesque of the bunch, After School Snacks begins with two hungry monsters hiding in the bushes near a sidewalk. They eat everything but have a specific appetite for pudding and children, and when one little girl gets eaten by them, her schoolyard crush must try to save the day. This story cleverly explores the role of the writer versus that of the characters in comics, with the characters able to reshape and reform the dialog bubbles used to portray speech into tools for deception and survival.
When two younger brothers play, things tend to get out of hand and beyond control for older siblings. In Mom Said, two brothers exclude their older, adolescent brother from their adventures and manage to pull the moon out of the sky, leaving their older brother to clean up but also leaving him in peace. A silly and whimsical exploration on the relationship between older and younger children in a family, Mom Said is a simple but effective comic.
Turtle Keep It Steady!
As a rendition of the tortoise and the hare set in the world of rock ‘n roll, Turtle Keep It Steady! lives up to its praise as one of the comics included in the collection, The Best American Comics 2008. In the world of Turtle Keep It Steady!, speed is not based on distance traveled but rather the pace of one’s living as a drummer. A clever adaptation of the tortoise and the hare, Turtle Keep It Steady! is a precautionary tale for children living in a post-70s hard rock, hard partying generation.
In building a narrative around the classic childhood game, Paper, Scissors, Rock, Lambert creates a full tale about a more extreme world where winning involves a trophy in the form of ice cream and the ability continue to roam the earth and losing involves being pulled into an underground world to be imprisoned by an abominable snowman-like creature for a year. PSR is an interesting experiment in understanding and mitigating the irrational severity that children feel when losing a game, reminding us that as bad as it may seem, losing a game of Paper, Scissors, Rock in real life cannot be worse than losing the game in this story.
When an older teenage brother does not know how to handle his interactions with his brother and father, he seems to solve his problems by eating up and then regurgitating the world into space. A hyperbole on the self-alienation of teenagers, Too Far is my favorite story of the collection. Here, Lambert’s illustration and metaphor construction through the absurd are at their finest.
This is the only full color comic of the book. Exploring the mourning process for a caveman, this story is an interesting visual experiment, but it is the most unsuccessful of the collection. It lacks the off-the-wall insanity that the other stories contain and feels too distant from Lambert’s voice and style.
Everyday follows the monotonous of life of two brothers over the course of a week. Despite what happens in the middle of the day, everyday seems to start and end the same way until the youngest brother decides on Saturday to take on his nemesis of the past week, the sun. Everyday is the epitome of Lambert’s style and returns his favorite theme of people interacting with human-like elements of nature to the pages. It is the perfect story to end on, neatly wrapping up and delivering all of the best that Lambert has to offer.
I Will Bite You! may not contain the most insightful comments about life, but it is immensely fun to read (though perhaps view is a better word since the book uses text so sparsely). Lambert has a fantastic imagination and a wonderful talent for creating some of the most visually interesting creatures you will see in animation. Pick up I Will Bite You!, and read it when you long for something strange, silly, and amusing to take a break from your day.
I Will Bite You! by Joseph Lambert is available now via Secret Aces.