Pierogies. This is a comic about pierogies.
Or, more specifically, whether they’re better boiled or fried. This is also a comic by an artist who is hurling everything against the wall to see what will stick, but when you’re as talented as Nate Garcia, absolutely everything sticks.
First of all, "Muscle Horse" is some type of growth hormone-induced milk bone coveted by wild animals and wild humans alike. One of the last remaining boxes is kept inside the gym shoe of Alanzo Sneak, the hero—more or less—of the Garcia Extended Universe. Huff Deely comes around, a lanky dog dressed like Woody, upsets the root beer float bartender at Big Mama's, and learns about an upcoming procedure scheduled for Sneak’s horse, Sheena. Monty and Sazel over at Archer's farm pull a 10-hour black-market surgery where they implant a revolver in the horse’s throat that protects Sneak against a towering skeleton who hungers for Muscle Horse and crisp pierogies. The skeleton enters the fray by coming out of a boot that came out of a police officer’s penis. All’s well that ends well as Sneak and Sheena continue their existence living in a one-wheel trailer watching National Geographic documentaries.
If this seems like a bit much, it is, but when you’re reading it Garcia’s strong character work and writing help push the absurdity over. The pacing and callbacks over the 12-panel pages display a natural bent toward comedy that far surpasses his years (I know it shouldn’t matter, but he only just turned 20!).
All the inhabitants of Muscle Horse have giant heads and rubbery bodies. Eyes bulge. Shoes become the size of bread loaves. Garcia can sure bigfoot around a page, but he really starts cooking when shit hits the fan and his line gets squiggly. In only a handful of panels and sequences in the comic, and when characters are stressed-out, sick, or scared, Garcia depicts them like they’re in a shimmery heat haze. It’s the same setting or character from the previous panel, but now there isn’t a straight line to be found and the borders of objects are barely holding on. It’s a neat effect, absent from his previous publications, and thankfully not overused.
Muscle Horse is a major step up from his last comic, Alanzo Sneak, released in June 2021, and a lot of that has to do with the color. The painted inside back and front covers are exemplary, but Garcia is no slouch when it comes to digital coloring either. The green fields, the chestnut tint of hair, and the purple interiors of the bar all find the right balance of naturalistic and “cartoony” color without ever getting too cute. About halfway through the comic, there is a scene that takes place in the bathroom of Big Mama’s. Garcia colors it completely in shades of red and black, and the spread is a breathtaker as a strung-out, beady-eyed cop has sex with a pierogi (boiled, for the record). These few pages prove that Garcia is as adept at haunting as he is at humorous. I hope he considers adding more unsettling aspects, as I think they’ll be welcome additions to his spit takes and slapstick.
The true highlight of this book, however, is how obviously Garcia is cartooning with a smirk on his face. Here is an artist more interested in having fun in his little Western world of oddities than exploring the Gen Z zeitgeist, someone drawn to Boody and Basil rather than BISAC codes. In Muscle Horse, anatomy, plot, and all ties to genre (and reality) are set to the wind like tumbleweed. It’s fun to see a young cartoonist in their very own Neat Stuff era and I sincerely hope Garcia has a fruitful cartooning career ahead of him.