May 24, 2014

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Daddy Lightning by Tom Hart

Written and Illustrated by Tom Hart
Published by Retrofit Comics

A poet just wants to live on the beach with his baby daughter, but practical concerns get in the way in this silly yet touching tribute to the artist's late daughter, taken too young.

"Daddy Lightning," the titular character, is shown struggling to keep things together, with a fussing baby and seemingly no idea how to handle it. When he's given advice by a professional, things get a bit better--until his daughter's needs strap his already limited resources.

Desperate but refusing to give up, the father has crazy dreams about a chorus of disapproving mothers, which blend into the reality of fighting to be the person he wants to be and compromising to make ends meet, shown by taking a raking job when poetry doesn't work out. The comedic exaggerations stand in for real life worries about a child's safety, needs, and the burdens of being  father, all done with just enough humor that if you're not careful, you'll miss the points and hidden messages inside Daddy Lightning.

That would be a shame, because it's those ideas that really make this one work. "Daddy Lightning" the character may be fun to watch as he constantly changes diapers and gets desperate enough to use a snail as a pacifier, but what we're really seeing are the troubles of trying to balance wanting your own life and being a parent. It's almost impossible to manage, and I give a lot of credit to those who I see doing it.*

Hart's visual presentation of that message is a lot of fun. Opening without worrying about the pair's origins, he goes straight to the problems, allowing his loose lines to create comedic exaggerations as needed by the overall plot. You'll laugh as you see a man trying to run while pulling up his pants, a running gag in the comic. When the father, a bunch of waving lines, approaches the grocery who is as calm as the sea on a windless day, it's a great transposition of images.

There are a lot of little touches that add to the mix, like when "Daddy Lightning" tries to think of good father-child stories, and fails after going over Cronus and Oedipus or his desire just to have a simple waffle, which stands in (like taking a crap) for all the things a good parent sacrifices for their child.

Reminding me a bit of James Kochalka in its combination of humor and humanity, Daddy Lightning is another solid comic from Box Brown's Retrofit line. There should be a few hard copies out there, and if not, you can pick one up digitally at the Retrofit store, in handy, half-price PDF form.

*I'm not a parent. I can barely handle cats. Part of the reason is because I was terrified of failing to make that balance. Getting it right is probably the hardest thing for a human to do.