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Viola, Jason – Herman the Mantee #5


Herman the Manatee #5

Ah, Herman the Manatee. Is it a bad sign that a comic this grim always cheers me up? Most likely yes, but I can live with that. The subtitle to this one refers to the fact that Herman has had enough, but he’s pretty much “had enough” from the get-go, so there are less changes here than you might think. Well, outside of the death of one of the main characters. Spoiler alert! Ah, relax, I’m not going to tell you which one dies. So by now you know the drill, as these comics show Herman, either alone or with some of his friends, dealing with his predilection for hitting his head on passing boats. That and his severe lack of a will to live, although most of his friends aren’t much help in that regard. Topics this time around include another look at Herman’s early years, the advantages and hilarious side effects of social networking, how manatees can be mistaken for mermaids, all kinds of self-pity, learning to dance, hoping for a nice afterlife, relaxing yoga poses, and casual murder. Those are the strips in the first half anyway. The second half is when things really pick up steam, what with the assault on a seahorse compound and the death of that character I mentioned earlier. Jason’s art has been damned near perfect from the start, and if I’ve never mentioned his penmanship before, well consider it mentioned. Sloppy lettering can take you right out of a book (if you can’t understand the words, it’s a little difficult to get lost in a story), but the man never crams words into word balloons that are far too small for them, he always spells everything correctly (and you know that I can be a dick about that if it goes wrong) and it’s alarmingly neat. Also, I’m only mentioning his penmanship because I’ve already praised every other aspect of his books and assume that you’re all reading this series by now, especially considering the many free samples on his website. If not, go over to his website, read some strips, forget about your own mortality for a bit. It’ll brighten up your afternoon! $3

Viola, Jason – Herman the Manatee #4


Herman the Manatee #4

I don’t know how this issue of Herman got shuffled out of the rotation, as I like these comics a bunch, but there it was at the bottom of another pile of minis. Time to get my (imaginary) comics secretary in here to clean the place up. I remember wondering in the first issue if the shtick of Herman getting bonked on the head by passing boats would get old, and here we are at #4 and Jason has almost entirely taken that gag out of the strip. Oh, it still shows up a few times, and if anything it’s even funnier because you don’t know when it’s coming. Other than that this volume focuses a bit more on Herman’s friends (as you could guess by that fantastic subtitle), with a special 100th strip at the end that shows Jason’s creative process to get into Herman’s head. The other strips include Herman getting pushed around by the narwhal, trying to make friends with Lester, getting organized, summing up Hamlet in a beautiful way, being seen in 3D, putting god to sleep, and imagining a better life for himself. That’s maybe a third of the strips, but you should discover everything else for yourself. That’s assuming you haven’t been keeping up with this series, as you really should be. It’s not everybody who can make me rethink my “ongoing strips are generally just not funny” theory, and Jason did that in a big way. Of course, I don’t think he’s published in any newspaper or alternative weekly (although please correct me if I’m wrong), so here’s hoping he doesn’t give up. You giving him money for comics would probably be a nice motivation… $4

Viola, Jason – Herman the Manatee #3


Herman the Manatee #3

So much for all those boats hitting Herman on the head. Granted, Jason was able to make that running gag funnier for longer than I would have thought possible, and frankly he probably has it in him to make it funny again, but this issue veers away from that concept. In this one Herman is in jail. In case you were wondering why, it’s because he was hanging posters without a permit. Yes, the laws of the sea can be unduly harsh. Herman meets a couple of new friends in jail, one a self-loathing manatee (which is why he’s in jail) and a narwhal who is in jail because he killed other narwhals. Stories in here include a complicated escape plan, some time back out in the wild, and an even more complicated rescue plan. If I say any more than that this whole thing will get ruined, but I’m loving this change of direction. Sure, he still got hit on the head by a boat, but I think it was only the one time, and the individual strips are forming a cohesive narrative much more smoothly than they were in the first issue. Several strips don’t seem to have anything resembling a punchline, which is a welcome sight to me at least. And Jason’s art, even though he often doesn’t need to do much (what with it all taking place in the vast underwater ocean), is stellar everywhere. I was hesitant to go all in on this one because I was afraid it would get repetitive but you know what? Screw it. This is a damned fine comic book, and people who enjoy damned fine comic books should go out and spend some money on it. $3, or I just saw on his website that he’s selling the collection of #1-4 for $10, which is a steal.

Viola, Jason – Herman the Manatee #2


Herman the Manatee Volume 2

In the cliffhanger of a review for the last issue I was left wondering if the set-up for this strip (Herman hits his head on a boat when he tries to surface in a variety of hilarious ways) would wear thin by the second issue. The verdict: well, it’s not like Jason had to keep that as the story for the whole run, now did he? This starts off with us learning a bit more about Herman’s early days (along with what a disappointment he was from a very young age) before he moves on to write reviews for his head-bumping experiences, goes to a party (or not. You choose!), sings a bit, takes a personality test, votes, bores his dad on his deathbed, fails to save Christmas  and then goes all Samuel Beckett on us. That’s about half of the book, and I was already impressed with Jason’s ability to keep this thing fresh and funny. But then things shift suddenly when Herman notices a distinct lack of head bumpings. It turns out that a deal has been struck to keep the boats out of the area in exchange for the manatees being willing to be kissed and ridden by tourists. Herman goes along with this for a bit but soon grows to miss his daily concussions and goes into activist mode, but I’ve probably said too much already. If you thought the first book was funny or just happened to go to Jason’s website and chuckled at a few of the strips, you’ll be happy to know that he does manage to keep up the pace for another issue. He’s pretty much fully won me over too, although I suppose things could still fall apart in the next couple of issues. Nah, he already got past the hard part. $3

Viola, Jason – Herman the Manatee Gets Hit By A Boat Volume 1


Herman the Manatee Gets Hit By A Boat Volume 1

You’d think that a strip that almost always ended with the main character getting hit by a boat would get boring in a hurry. It threatens to get boring but Jason does an admirable job of turning it around before it goes off the rails. The art is fantastic, which is almost a shame as there really isn’t a lot to show most of the time other than a manatee, some fish or possibly a surface view. It’s comics like this that make me think that I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss web comics. Well, it’s not I dismiss them out of hand, it’s just that I get so many physical mini comics that it would be impossible to get into reviewing web comics too. If you were wondering, yes, this is the exact same reason why I don’t review zines. Anyway, I should probably mention a few of the comics, even if I have already given away the ending for most of them. Herman is lured up to the surface by a song, bubbles, different asshole fish and a fortune cookie. He tries a few different methods to get around this problem, each with varying degrees of a lack of success. We also see a bit of Herman’s early days, and from those it’s a wonder that he ever gets out of whatever he uses as a bed in the morning. There’s also a smartly done parody of the work of both George Herriman and Edward Gorey to liven things up when it starts dragging a bit. Jason sent along three more volumes of this series, and it may or may not get terribly boring over the long term. Either way, this first issue is worth a look, and if you don’t believe me then his website should have more than enough samples to convince you. $3