Riding the Rails with Roger Langride in The Iron Duchess

Roger Langridge’s The Iron Duchess is animated. That’s not to say that it’s a cartoon or a movie or anything like that even though it is cartoony. It’s animated because there’s a spark of life in Langridge’s comics; a snap, crackle, and pop that he just instinctually has on every page and panel. The Iron Duchess, a clear homage to the movies of Buster Keaton (it says so on the back cover blurb,) is a wordless pantomime about love, movies, trains, a horse and clown and his pig. Langridge’s Fred The Clown is at the center of this comedic storm and his naivety about the world around him powers Langridge’s view of the world as only a clown could see and live it.

The largely silent comic borrows its various plots from old black and white and silent films. There’s romance, a train chase, and a handsome actor meeting a gruesome fate in a haunted castle. With Fred the Clown as his central character, Langridge has a lot of fun playing with these cinematic plots. And like those silent movies that provide him his inspiration, Langridge’s characters work because they’re played big and loud without ever uttering one word of dialogue.

There’s a horse in the book that’s smarter than Fred. Heck, there’s a pig in the book who may be smarter but Fred has the biggest heart in a book full of characters with a lot of heart. Wearing those hearts on their drawn sleeves, Langridge’s characters are great actors on the page. In fact, they’re overacting but that’s what’s needed for a story like this as their large and grand gestures more than make up for the lack of words. The cartooniness in his work is the method through which Langridge can create these wonderfully human characters.

That cartooniness helps make that horse that’s smarter than Fred as much of character with real motivation as Fred or his love interest is. Now the horse may be seeing Fred as a competitor for the love of the girl but that gives him a great reason to be both an ally and an impediment to Fred. Actually, there are so many missed love connections in The Iron Duchess that Langridge’s story is a comedy about the purity and foolishness of love. And it’s all wrapped up in this funny comedic wrapper that sometimes all you notice is just how naively simple Fred is and how clear and uncomplicated his view of everything is. His simpleness allows him to function is the world that’s full of complications.

A pure cartoonist, Langridge’s books sing with joy that can only be found in visual pratfalls, jokes, and misdirection. The Iron Duchess has an old fashioned heart that showcases everything that’s great about Roger Langridge’s comics.

The Iron Duchess
Written and Drawn by Roger Langridge
Published by Hotel Fred
Read online at zcomx