Jon Allen’s Ohio Is For Sale, a “funny animal” comic for mature readers, originally appeared in a series of minicomics, highly regarded by those lucky enough to have chanced upon them. In the spirit of Simon Hanselmann or Tedd Stearns, Allen traces the adventures of anthropomorphic heroes as screwed up and self-destructive as Hanselmann’s Megg and Mogg, and as haplessly trapped in the twists and turns of fate as Stearn’s Fuzz and Pluck. Allen’s cast is every bit as funny: his droll comic timing and assured, slightly eccentric pacing enlivens any standard “burnout roommate” tropes he draws upon, making for a highly entertaining read.
Ohio’s protagonists are three post-high school roommate bros: Patrick, a feline prone to existential longing; Leonard, a floppy-eared dog who acts as a sounding board for Patrick—and is basically up for anything; and Trevor, a rather vacant cat with little on his mind beyond hanging out and watching television. The trio live in a state of perpetually delayed adulthood in a ratty house complete with a refrigerator stocked with only beer and ice cream. In between slacking off they routinely get into all sorts of big trouble.
There are five untitled stories in all, each unfolding at a good length; in the best of them, the narrative veers unpredictably from one absurd situation—or crisis—into another. Patrick, by default the most adult of the bunch, is a frustrated artist. At the start of the first and best story he’s busy at his typewriter: “I am writing a novel. I’ve been writing it forever […] When it’s finished, it will be the most important novel of the century.” His ambition and commitment, however, fly out the window when Leonard and Trevor interrupt to invite him to go to the local 7-Eleven.
I once read an interview with Charles Schulz in which he stated that he decided to make Schroeder obsessed with Beethoven rather than Brahms because “‘Beethoven’ sounds funnier.” In that spirit, Allen adds to the humor of his cast’s dialogue in a couple of clever ways. First: having them speak largely without punctuation, almost as if reciting lines, he lends a detached, slightly otherworldly feel to the proceedings. And his pacing bolsters the laughs:
Drawing out this simple exchange into four panels effectively makes Leonard’s “You down?” an off-kilter (and to me, very funny) punchline. It’s simple and artfully done.
Second: Allen makes sure that there’s often a feeling of dead air surrounding these guys, adding to the sense that there’s a whole mess of issues and problems they aren’t dealing with (and that they lack any self-awareness of this fact). As the shaggy-dog tale continues, we meet some hilarious minor characters, including an annoying 7-Eleven clerk who delights in being as unhelpful as possible and the choleric manager of “Wozzycom Technology Logistics,” who is exceptionally hostile to job-hunter Patrick, right off the bat.
In another stand-out story, (spoiler) Trevor accidentally kills Leonard. This is terrible enough in itself, but then Leonard descends to the fiery pits of hell, meeting Satan and all his minions. After Satan takes a real liking to Leonard, things look like they’ll work out just fine, but unfortunately Leonard is uninterested in taking their friendship to the next level, which makes the Fallen One angry. Ultimately, things work out, but Leonard’s path to eventual freedom is a complicated one. When he presents himself back home, alive once more, he tells Patrick: “I was in hell but I got out through a portal now I’m back like Jesus.” Patrick: “Whoa you want a beer?” Leonard: “Holy crap yes.” All’s well that ends well, at least until the next catastrophe.
Along with his artistic efforts, Patrick also occasionally succumbs to deeper ponderings; in one story he moodily takes an aimless night drive, wondering What It All Means. Eventually he encounters a deer, dying on the side of the road after being run over. The deer tries to impart some hard-won, end-of-life wisdom to Patrick: “My point is,” he starts. “What,” Patrick prompts him. Deer: “I don’t remember, I hit my head pretty hard I think.” We next see Patrick back home, both Leonard and Trevor snoring by the television. No one is any the wiser as the tale concludes.
Allen’s cast seems to function at a sort of baseline ennui. Rather than suffering extreme highs and lows, they muddle through their lives disaffectedly, viewing themselves as helpless cogs in the Wheel of Life. In the story above, Patrick muses, “You can drive all night in any direction and imagine new life in a faraway place. But eventually you remember that it’s all the same everywhere. And then you might as well turn around and go home.” Even during the episode where Leonard is killed, Patrick’s reaction is more annoyed than sorrowful: “Jesus this is not good.” I laughed throughout Ohio is for Sale: Jon Allen’s funny animals are my kind of funny animals.