In the second issue of W. Maxwell Prince‘s clown-themed anthology Haha, he teams up with artist Zoe Thorogood and colorist Chris O’Halloran to tell yet another story of a sad clown. This time, a clown-themed burlesque dancer named Rudy thinks back to the tragic life of her mother, who suffered from psychosis and was a sex worker that dressed up as a clown. One day, she had a breakdown and took Rudy with her on a fruitless quest to Funville aka the amusement park that closed in Haha #1. There are some sweet moments like the mom putting a red nose on Rudy or shooting off fireworks together, but for the most part, Haha #2 is a bleak, hopeless character study about how switching up the scenery won’t change your path in life as Rudy ends up being a clown like her mother. She is a little bit more self aware one as demonstrated through Prince’s narration and framing device
Like the previous issue in the series, Haha #2 plays with both the humor and creepiness of clowns in pop culture to tell a story about the dark, twisted side of the human psyche. However, in his portrayal of (mainly) the mom and Rudy, W. Maxwell Prince leans on harmful stereotypes that sex workers or folks that work in sex work adjacent professions are mentally ill or have bad childhoods. Child abuse and sex work are difficult topics to write about, and it seems like Prince blows by them to tell a story filled with unease and tension. However, his portrayal of Rudy is much better than her mother’s thanks to the narrative caption that give her thoughts and perception of her childhood.
Zoe Thorogood’s art complements these captions as the clown imagery represents hope or a mask to make money or wall one’s self off from the world depending on the context. For example, she draws the mom and Rudy with smiling expressions as they run away from home with the red nose as a symbol of their bond. In a different context, this would be a sweet moment, but Chris O’Halloran’s dark color palette creates a sense of impending doom. And little by little, Rudy’s childhood is chipped away as her mom comes back with bruises from one of her clients, props up books so 12 year old Rudy can drive on the highway, and finally, makes her hide in a closet while she has sex with one of her johns. The scene where Rudy comes at the man with her mom’s razor shows her trauma bond to her mom, and then O’Halloran explodes in intense colors as the tragedy unfolds.
Even if W. Maxwell Prince might lean into one too many stereotypes in his portrayal of the mom in Haha #2 (I mean she doesn’t even get a name), Thorogood does an excellent job conveying her various moods through facial expressions, body language, and even the way her hair moves or she is positioned on a panel. When the vaunted destination of Funville turns out to be a bust complete with an “F” that is drooping down on the sign, Thorogood doesn’t show the mom or Rudy’s faces: only their backs. This allows the readers to drink in the destitute nature of Funville and realize that all the running away, abuse, manipulation, and even murder is all for nothing. Two pages later, Thorogood draws the mom holding her face in her hands to show both the shattered dream and her negative feelings about how this effected her daughter. It’s a moment of lucidity, and the future burlesque dancer, Rudy, slips into her first “role” that of mother and comforter.
Haha #2 continues this series’ throughline of portraying fucked up family dynamics although it seems like writer W. Maxwell Prince bit off a little more than he could chew in tackling child abuse and sex workers as Rudy is a three-dimensional character, and her mother isn’t. Still, this comic is still worth checking out for Zoe Thorogood’s art alone as she continues to exhibit her mastery of creating empathy for characters through eyes, hair, and facial expressions. Thorogood is also one of my current favorite storytellers, and Haha #2 is great to flip through and look at the moments between moments as she crafts the character of Rudy with the help of Prince’s at-times, poignant captions.
Story: W. Maxwell Prince Art: Zoe Thorogood
Colors: Chris O’Halloran Letters: Good Old Neon
Story: 7.5 Art: 9.2 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
Purchase: comiXology – Kindle – Zeus Comics – TFAW