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Muzzlers, Guzzlers and Good Yeggs
By Joe Coleman
Published by Fantagraphics Books; $13.00 USD

I wasn't too sure about this book when I first picked it up. I've never been a fan of Coleman's other work, though one of my friends swears by it. For another thing, it is more text than comic, yet also still a vital addition to the comic form. Which brings us to this collection of Coleman work, originally published in issues of Blab!

In one volume now are the stories of real life criminals that have captured Coleman's imagination, real life tales of pain, anguish, triumph of will and, in some cases, the dead end of a life of angry despair.

Coleman focusses on both the heinous and the victim of circumstance. There is the story of Jack Black, a criminal for over thirty years of his life, resolved at one point to finally live as a law abiding citizen. There's the tale of the infamous "Boxcar Bertha" and her days as a hobo tramp and prostitute. On the darker side of human nature we are presented with Carl Panzram, a murderer, rapist and burglar, totally unrepentent to the bitter end. We also visit the twisted mind of another serial killer, John Paul Knowles, and his war within himself and his murderous nature. Coleman examines all of their stories with neither pity nor glory, simply providing the narrative voice of each as if he wrenched each one from their grave to possess his writings. No quarter is asked of the reader on their behalf. We are to simply accept that these are the lives they lead, and whether for good or bad or for ill begotten end, that's simply the path chosen.

This being primarily a text work, Coleman has amply sprinkled the tales within with his intricate painstakingly detailed art. A Coleman piece is something to behold, gruesome and frank in its presentation of the sad souls who wander the real-life- based text. Whether it's an ugly down on his luck bum or the "more terrifying than Hannibal Lecter because he's real" Panzram, Coleman captures an eerie, almost surreal aspect of his subjects. His art's uglier facets are offset by beautiful penwork and brushstrokes of black and white. Each piece is capable of telling a story all its own.

Muzzlers, Guzzlers and Good Yeggs is no book for the squeamish, its tales of human nature gone sour not easily swallowed by the faint of heart. Yet if you are one trying to understand the depths of human depravity and suffering, this is as good an analytical work as well as entertainment, and Coleman will leave you with much food for thought long after the last page is turned. Grade: 5/5

-- Jason Marcy

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