This week on my Small Press Spotlight series, I’d like to highlight an older series (it ran from 1999 to 2003…sort of) that is woefully under read. Before I announce the title, I do want to say a few caveats: the first three issue series was released by decidedly not small press Image Comics, but the remainder of the series was released by independent stalwarts Oni Press out of Portland, Oregon (whether or not they consider themselves small press is up to them).
The title in question is Judd Winick’s The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius, an often profane and always hysterical series of mini-series Winick put out well before he started working heavily for DC and before he had lost the moniker of “that guy from The Real World: San Francisco.
The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius is written and illustrated by Winick (Titans, Batman) and somewhat unsurprisingly is about the trials and tribulations of a ten year old who also happens to be the smartest person on the planet (by a considerable bit too – his IQ is suggested to be 350). Most of the mini-series follow a very specific formula: Barry invents something, his borderline insane and ADD riddled best friend (and sole keeper of the knowledge that Barry is a genius) Jeremy then mucks it up, and both Barry and Jeremy work together to fix the problem. Throw in the love of Barry’s life Sara, their friend Roxie (who also used to happen to be a sasquatch and is the subject of Jeremy’s adoration), insane inventions, often ridiculous villains, and significant amounts of hilarity and profanity, and you have the blueprint for Barry Ween.
Just because a series has a standard recipe does not mean it is formulaic or repetitive, as Winick’s ferocious imagination and fall over it’s so funny writing make this a rollicking romp no matter what. Strangely, the problems I have with Winick as a writer for DC (I think he’s a fairly trite and uninventive mainstream writer) are his strengths when it comes to this title, as it’s the perpetually surprising and shocking bits that often bring the biggest laughs on this title. Barry’s diatribes about things such as other perceived geniuses true intellects (click on the image to the right for one of those rants) and any number of other things really bring out the laughs as well, such as the one below about aliens:
“At 8 months of age, I made my first high-powered telescope by cannibalizing a video camera and an Atari 2600 (not like anyone was going to miss it). And my studies have concluded that extraterrestrials exist…and they’re generally a bunch of jerk-offs. Alien visitation to Earth falls into two categories. One: The National Geographic Special. These are camera crews who come to Earth to film us in our natural habitat. And Two: The intergalactic equivalent of cow-tipping. It’s predominately drunken alien frat-boys mutilating cattle, flying in observed airspace, and anal probing. But there are exceptions to these two categories…”
While this is easily one of the funniest comics I’ve ever read, Winick also has a great grip on balancing it out by making Barry’s relationships with those around him oddly touching ones. His love of Sara culminates in a very tragic and oft painful final arc that Winick released years ago, and if we never get another issue of this series it works as a somewhat fitting coda to the series. Winick has a real grasp on these characters, bringing balance to the absurdity by grounding them in real life surrounded by science fiction.
Winick is a decent enough artist drawing more inspiration from comic strips of yesteryear than mainstream comics (not the “real mainstream” Oni titles exist in, but comic mainstream), as this title often looks like an R rated version of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes crossed with Berkely Breathed’s Bloom County books. The art is definitely not the strength of the book, but Winick has a true gift for sight gags that bring the laughs. His layouts and how he visualizes the situations are always on a different level than his actual draftwork, but that isn’t really a big deal as it truly gets the job done.Continued below
So all in all, this title is a gem. It’s a massively entertaining romp in each and every mini-series and one that is not something you often hear comic fans discussing. It’s a shame because it has a lot to offer readers, as Winick really shows on this title what an imaginative creator he can be. Highly recommended by yours truly, and Oni Press has an absolutely screaming deal for a collection of the entire series on their website for just $19.95. I highly recommend it grabbing it before it goes out of print, like books of this sort often do.