Josh Pettinger, whose Goiter Comics series has been churning around in the self-publishing underground for a while now, has been catching some sparks lately, particularly due to his collaboration with Simon Hanselmann on the Werewolf Jones & Sons Deluxe Summer Fun Annual. Ahead of a just-announced Fantagraphics anthology, he’s just released Warm Television, a brief, odd little entry featuring his chunkhead protagonist, Tedward.
Illustrated in Pettinger’s usual loose, dizzying style–all beads of sweat, sharp angles and megacephalic middle-class faces–Warm Television finds Tedward taking a new job selling rental TVs to supplement his family income. (His mother’s rhubarb crop has come to ruin thanks to the overzealous use of pesticides by another pepperpot at the local community garden.)
As he goes about his daily tasks, collecting fees for each program a renter watches and warning against the use of foreign currency, Tedward meets a young woman with whom he bonds–first platonically and then romantically–over their shared enjoyment of "The Cowboy Variety Hour." But the closer they grow, the deeper will be her eventual betrayal in a twist that is both ridiculous and hilarious.
That’s about it; Warm Television gives you a story both economical and strange, with bizarre asides (as when Tedward’s mother complains about him “gallivanting around at cum parties”) and strange encounters. Tedward is a rulesy busybody, cutting no one any slack but maintaining a gregarious demeanor come what may. It’s the kind of book that has a constant undercurrent of surreal menace, and the enjoyment of it–aside from its love-it-or-leave-it visuals–comes from the weird lack of fulfillment of that menace.
Warm Television’s appeal is less in laugh-out-loud moments, or the disruptive emergence of extreme sexual, violent or scatological situations, as it does from an almost Lynchian sense of the everyday taken to the absurd. From the way they look to the way they dress, Pettinger’s characters exude an almost quotidian grotesqueness; something is deeply wrong, even if you never quite find out what it is. Subterranean vibes of the inexplicable–what’s with Tedward’s mother and her blood feud with Mrs. Raynor? why does Tedward’s and Judy’s relationship escalate to such a ludicrous degree?–never quite bubble to the surface, but the distant sound of that rumbling below the ground keeps you turning the page.
Pettinger seems like a true kindred spirit to Hanselmann, and their shared sensibilities (including a mutual love for Alan Partridge) have already produced dividends. It’ll be interesting to see how Pettinger's first big collection holds up, but until then, Warm Television is a good appetizer, and a solid litmus test to see if his off-kilter and implicatory style of cartoonish storytelling is a right fit for those just coming to his work. Bearing echoes of the likes of Gary Panter and Charles Burns, but with a rough, suggestive process all his own, Pettinger will be one to watch as he develops as an artist.