Pencil Head #1 by Ted McKeever

Comics Reviews
Pencil Head #1 by Ted McKeever

Writer/Artist: Ted McKeever
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: January 20, 2016

As careers in comics go, Ted McKeever has had one of the most unpredictable. His art veers toward the stylized and expressive, and his body of work has spanned myriad genres and publishers. Since the late 1980s, he’s worked on everything from German Expressionist-influenced DC superhero comics to an adaptation of Thomas Ligotti’s surreal horror to a run on Doom Patrol. He collaborated with No Wave icon Lydia Lunch on the 1998 Toxic Gumbo and illustrated the Joe Kelly-penned Enginehead, one of the most bizarre comics set in a superhero universe you’re likely to read. Pencil Head, his new five-issue series from Image, bills itself as “Mostly True,” and features a bedraggled comic artist, Poodwaddle, as the creator’s avatar. The result is an excursion deep into one man’s insecurities, with sinister creatures lurking in the margins.


In theory, the plot of Pencil Head’s first issue is quotidian: Poodwaddle finishes work on an issue of a comic, quarrels with his editor and meets up with his friend Luthias for food and conversation. But the small details make this something stranger than a more predictable tale of a frustrated artist: the blurring of metafictional lines between panels—and the panels of the comic within the comic; the way that Poodwaddle’s dreams and idle thoughts seep into his everyday life.

That dreamlike crosshatching becomes an ominous motif in the issue, as an unsettling entity haunts Poodwaddle in both his dreams and waking life. That’s one of the two threads that runs throughout the issue; the other, unfortunately, appears to be Luthias and Poodwaddle causing the death of a dancer at a topless bar. This doesn’t necessarily feel gratuitous as much as a trope; for all the satiric jokes in the issue about consumerism, the sequence doesn’t feel tonally consistent with the rest of the issue. It also leaves some questions about how Poodwaddle’s character will evolve over the rest of the series. Having the underdog hero flee the scene of an accidental death makes him seem, at the very least, tremendously callous, if not much worse.

Pencil Head #1 Interior Art by Ted McKeever

McKeever’s art in this issue is memorably stylized—the nameless editor’s face is dominated by a giant mouth, which looks both infantile and zombie-esque; a detective who shows up later in the book has a decidedly odd set of facial proportions; and Poodwaddle himself manages to look both cartoonish yet maintains minutely precise body language, whether hard at work or self-effacing.

Pencil Head holds a decidedly bleak tone: nearly every character who appears is, to some extent, a caricature. It’s an interesting balancing act that McKeever has established, a blend of satire, absurdism, and supernatural horror. But it’s also a memorable ride in its debut chapter.

Pencil Head #1 Interior Art by Ted McKeever

Pencil Head #1 Interior Art by Ted McKeever

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