Mark Alan Stamaty’s MacDoodle St. Aged Like a Fine, Structurally Inventive WineArt by Mark Alan Stamaty Comics Reviews Mark Alan Stamaty
Originally compiled as a paperback in 1980, not long after its run in the Village Voice from 1978 to 1980, Mark Alan Stamaty’s MacDoodle St. is back for new readers in this classy volume from New York Review Comics. It reprints Jules Feiffer’s introduction from the first printing and adds a new autobiographical strip at the end in which Stamaty explains why he stopped drawing it. Essentially, the stress produced by a relentless pace and commitment to innovation combined with the death of his father gave him the freedom to chuck it.
One can’t see the stress in the strip itself, which feels both effortless and effortful at the same time. Never do we forget there’s a hand at work and a wriggly, playful mind animating it. Described in the most literal terms, MacDoodle St. was a long-running weekly narrative strip with a large cast of characters and a somewhat mystically driven story. But it’s far more interesting than that. Plenty of stuff from that era is dated in a bad way, focused on transgressing limitations without doing more than just dynamiting boundaries. Stamaty was doing something different.
His jokes run through the panels proper but also around the edges, in the gutters and in the lettering. There are silly jokes and jokes about the (then-)present-day, jokes about the zen of washing dishes, jokes about the required parts of a narrative, verbal goof-offs galore and more, all packed into some extremely full pages. The strip itself often shows up as a character, walking its panels around on a couple of legs. It starts out in the title section at the top of the strip, each week given a different adjective (“action-packed,” “talkative,” “restless,” “urbane”), then migrates down into the panels proper, where it gets drunk and belligerent or travels to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate against nuclear power.
That ability to osmose between well-drawn, firm lines rather than abandoning them is a key to the abiding joy of of Stamaty’s work. It also explains why he felt he was under a lot of pressure to keep producing new ideas and new types of jokes. Once you have create a whole strip in which each panel appears on the body of a cow in a herd, you are bound to feel like you have to keep adding balls to the juggling act. On the other hand, it sure was a fun one, and the fact that it’s more about structure (both comics and humor) than about its era helps it hold up.