REVIEW [Comics]: Magic Boy & The Robot Elf

27 08 2009
"Kochalka's first (and highly ambitious) fever dream of a graphic novel."

"Kochalka's first (and highly ambitious) fever dream of a graphic novel."

It’d be easy to dismiss James Kochalka‘s graphic novel(la?) Magic Boy & The Robot Elf as Moe Szyslak does of post-modern design: “Weird for the sake of weird” (in episode CABF20, “Homer the Moe”). Kochalka’s narrative has aspirations of exploring the concept(s) of aging and of becoming aged; so, it’s slightly deeper than simply being “weird.”

Its protagonist, Magic Boy, declares flatly, “I’m old,” before investigating his frail body’s suddenly emerging failings. Just as quickly as he notices how “freak[y]” it is to be human, he decides, “I wish I were a robot.” And therein lies his (and Kochalka’s) trouble.

What began as a man’s meditation on the advancing of his years becomes a bizarre (and sometimes confusing) exercise in time travel. To be fair, I might be overstating here; this was, honestly, my initial reaction to the piece. Rereading it, though, gave me a chance to connect  seemingly disparate elements.

Magic Boy appears as both an old man and a boy. The former claims precedence in the piece whenever things seem grim: as he realizes that his body is slowly deteriorating; as he recalls time spent with his wife; as he recognizes that he might have to end his life. The latter appears in the prime of youth: vibrant, loving, confident.

It is because the old M.B. misses the young M.B. so passionately, that the old M.B. decides to construct a robot, because, “through him … I’ll live forever.” But this is where things slip slightly from the rails. As soon the robot is switched on it achieves sentience, attacks old Magic Boy, and claims his life for its own.

And, after activating its “built-in time machine,” it travels back to Magic Boy’s childhood where it discovers young Magic Boy at play. Several scenes play out between them; each of them has much to learn from the other. These, I think, could have been expanded to include the robot (sentient, remember) becoming aware of his failings as a robot and his inability to experience truly human existence. That said, the robot quickly acts to replace Magic Boy and endear himself to his new-found parents.

The story glides easily between primary narrative and flashbacks; Kochalka uses different colors of ink to cue the reader whenever a switch is about to be made. His artistic style is loose and works when presenting Magic Boy in his youth, but falls short of conveying believable robotic behavior (no matter how much that character wishes to be human).

Magic Boy & The Robot Elf is available from Top Shelf Comix. ($9.95)

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