Grim Times #1-2 (2014)
Written, drawn, colored, lettered, and published by Clay Doran.
Horror comes in many forms. Usually, it’s vampires, werewolves, ghosts, goblins, witches, and crazy dudes with chainsaws. But horror can also be more personal. Depression, suicide, and heartbreak are the horrors of every day life. Clay Doran’s self-published Grim Times explores these terrifying experiences through talking animals, humor, and whimsy.
The anthology contains four strips. “Skunk & Badger” is a buddy comedy about a cynical, old badger and his younger, joyful punk rock skunk friend. Together, they wonder the streets of Jacksonville, getting in trouble with the law, vandalizing negative ads, and hanging up fake missing dog signs. “Greyneck” is about a deeply closeted redneck that has no time for liberal bullshit like art shows, nature conservation, or Oxford University. “Saatchi the Suicidal Bat” is about a bat that kills himself each episode, depressed by the various problems of the world. “Tragix” is various stories of animals falling in love then break-up in the saddest ways possible.
The stories are short and simplistic in nature. Grim Times does not aim to be a big, complex epic such as Sandman or Maus. Much like newspaper funnies, the stories are humorous strips that end with jokes. Sometimes they’re situational, ironic, dark, or political. The political humor may turn off some readers, as Doran makes no attempts to hide his left-leaning politics. There is meat industry bashing, Andrew Jackson dissing, and continuous struggles with the law. “Greyneck” is satirical of right-wingers, making arguments against left-wing politics in the same visceral, illogically paranoid manner one can find in the comments section of a news website. It may not be subtle, but is very honest and self-affirming for anyone that agrees with Doran.
The best strip is “Tragix.” Clay Doran started Grim Times after experiencing a devastating break-up and uses the comic to vent and explore the various reasons break-ups occur. They can be betrayal, lack of motivation, or realizing that the person you are with just isn’t the love of your life. The most depressing is about two mice that fall in love. The male mouse promises to start a new life with his girlfriend as soon he has tied up all loose ends. Each time he visits and goes away again, the wall between them gets bigger until it is a towering fortress separating the two. At the end, the female mouse delivers her ex-lover a letter telling him that nobody broke his heart. He broke his own because he can’t finish what he starts (feeeeeeeeeels). “Tragix” is an honest strip with brilliant uses of metaphor and will depress all but the most stone-hearted of readers. If that doesn’t work, there’s a note in one of the Saatchi strip about egg factory chick culling videos online (still want that omelet?).
The artwork matches the simplistic nature of the stories. It’s a cartoony style of a child’s notebook with a punk rock tone. It’s sketchy, disproportionate and unprofessional-looking, and that’s what makes it beautiful. Despite the dark subject matters in the comic, the characters of Grim Times have an innocent quality to them much like childhood. They are the stuff of fairy tales and cartoon shows that many grew up with. Situations tend to start of sunny for these Aesopian beings as they fall in love, enjoy a day out in the sea, until an ugly dose of reality rears its head around. When the animals experience sadness, there is an unnerving experience for the reader to see something so cute innocent experience negative emotions, much more so than if it was a real person. How many times have Pixar similarly bummed out their audience with Toy Story and Up? Joy and innocence are always on the verge of lost, and Grim Times’ art style amplifies the emotional intensity of those moments.
With only two issues in, Grim Times is the precious child of a rising star. Through wit and honesty, Clay Doran solidifies himself amongst Jacksonville’s, if not Florida’s, most talented cartoonists. Highly recommended for readers that want a horrifying experience without the need of haunted houses. Plus, there is ads for local Jax businesses (corporate shill).