When an artist begins producing comic strips, they unintentionally pit themselves against some of the most iconic characters in popular culture. The likes of Garfield, Snoopy and Calvin all employ a witty cynicism that has been universally adored for its concise, sharp method of describing small elements of hypocrisy present within society. Alongside the surplus of semi-autobiographical comic strips, the use of anthropomorphic animals further saturates a genre present on every street corner of the world. However, Louder and Smarter, the second comic collection from New York artist Alex Krokus, released by Pyrite Press, indicates that little refinements in writing and presentation leave the medium far from stale. While heavily situated in our current social and technological climate, the awkward isms of living, and the humorous ways they are portrayed, allow readers to acknowledge their own frustrations in positive, and productive ways.
Though the author suggests reading his first collection in order to understand the happenings of this piece, I had no issue being thrown into his world and finding highly relatable, standalone pieces. While largely independent observations, Krokus’ strips centre around the thoughts of his racoon-counterpart, and the varying inhabitants of his life (all depicted as animals). Within it, he discusses numerous monotonous, intrusive thoughts a young adult might find themselves divulging in. It’s these instances of millennial discomfort, whether it be telling someone they have something in their teeth, or realising you’ve spent 15 minutes talking about a video game at a party, that we find our characters constantly enamoured with.
It’s quite easy to “fish” for problems in this genre, identifying petty, entitled issues and generalising them to a grander part of the human condition. However, it’s the universal relatability that allows Krokus’ raccoon counterpart to stick out as a humorous, but also emotionally aware character. There is no greater significance to many of his thoughts; they are fleeting bursts of anxiety or stressors that surface through daily living. The multi-faceted demands of young adulthood are humorously portrayed in this collection, and with great accuracy. The comedic elements also allow Krokus’ audience to understand the issues more indicative of privilege than legitimate complication are explored in jest, with their inclusion more hyperbole than genuine resentment.
While it’s grounded heavily in our current climate in terms of social and technological states, it’s refreshing to be reading a piece reflective of our time, something increasingly difficult to do when social landscapes are in a constant state of flux. I also had the luck of being into many of the same things Alex enjoys, such as video games (more specifically Super Smash Brothers), which made the more niche moments of the comic even more relatable (though they could easily be substituted for other interests and still resonate).
Another issue that presents itself when creating comic strips are the structural limitations and need for content concision. There are only so many ways you can set up a punch line with four panels, and only so many ways to convey an idea with just a handful of words. But Krokus is able to evade these issues entirely with intelligent story and character design. While some characters, for example, Pasta Dave (and his love for pasta), have recurring bits that encompass them, most of the individuals inhabiting his world are multi-faceted, keeping their perspectives fresh and ever-changing. You come to know the dispositions of certain characters, but recurring incidents are kept to a minimum, and their independent interactions are fresh and laced with authenticity.
In terms of structure, Krokus rarely conforms to the same joke punchlines. Many of his strips play out as conversations between characters, where the comedic beat may rest on a silly comment at the beginning of the strip, an artistic moment of humour in the middle, or a witty reply at the end. And the times where Krokus does adhere to conventional joke setups, they are so left-field that their presence is a source of humour. To further challenge the concept of concision, some comic strips only include two panels. Albeit, at times these ones felt a little less pungent in their observations/content, but they were entertaining nonetheless. Krokus seems to have a deep understanding of what needs to be explained and what doesn’t, what needs depicted and what doesn’t.
Ultimately, this relatability comes from Krokus’ ability to discuss such profound topics, without ascribing importance to them. He doesn’t need to come to large revelations about society to coherently discuss the burnout that comes with constantly consuming, producing and entertaining. The all-consuming and highly draining cynicism that pervades our generation is not seen as a form of enlightenment, and no self-pity is used to explore Alex’s own issues with mental illness. Instead, it acts as a form of unification. Through his comics, our struggles as a generation are validated and portrayed sympathetically and humorously. It’s a way of embracing the absurdity of mundanity without stopping to lament, and, as if a byproduct of living, shows us that these situations may stop us to laugh at, but then we should keep moving.
With little-to-no overlaps in comedy or structure, Louder and Smarter provides a diverse array of insight and introspection on young adulthood in a highly humorous fashion. While its current relevance may have the capacity to fluctuate, Krokus’ high awareness for himself and others reads as a highly engaging and entertainment piece, and his artistry allows for his anthropomorphic characters to mimic their human counterparts, often with striking accuracy. The social awareness and narrative framing displayed in this collection provides a new spin on an ancient comic structure, one that often rests on its laurels and previous significance. I found myself frequently taking screenshots of so many relatable comics, reminding me of younger years, in which I would continually show Garfield comics I thought were funny to my primary school teacher.