“What it’s called isn’t important. What matters is what it is.”
Horror. Comedy. Anthology. These are easy classifications to give a comic such as Ice Cream Man, but doing so would be a disservice because for the past eleven issues, Ice Cream Man has been all of those things and more. The creative team of W. Maxwell Prince, Martín Morazzo, Chris O’Halloran, and Good Old Neon produce another funny, fearless, frightening, and frugal comic that is sure to mix up your feelings in all the right ways. Will Parson is just your average writer who one day wound up in the the very TV shows he was watching? That’s weird. At the same time, there’s no immediate threat, and its not like there’s anything else on, so like Will, we might as well keep watching, completely unaware that we have no power to change the channel.
It’s a rousing premise. Everyone has their qualms, guilty pleasures, peeves, and obsessions with reality TV — the possibilities are endless. Ice Cream Man #11 aims to take all of them head-on as Will moves through short episodes of a few familiar series. W. Maxwell Prince is well accustomed to adding a dash of surreal to ordinary life from his work on Electric Sublime, and the suspense and unpredictability keeps readers coming issue after issue. Rick the ice cream man may be the through line across each issue, but it’s the the ordinary citizens that give every book life. They could be anyone who seems to be doing okay on the outside but falling apart a little on the inside. Then the ice cream man comes along and pushes down a little harder.
Martín Morazzo was the artist on Electric Sublime and the team’s familiarity shows. Creators have to know each other inside an out in order to depict scenes this graphic, sinister, and sadistic with such an authenticity. Morazzo does an excellent job making sure that the surreal is not the primary focus by accentuating the realism. The TV screen panels, the background, and Will Parsons are all very realistic, and it’s only when the mannequins or the intestines appear that you get snapped out of the array of screen-like panels you’ve inevitably become fixated on. Whether it be the quiet, close-up reflections from Will himself or the over-the-top scenes of intestines spilling out of human bodies, Morazzo is able to balance it all to create a style of horror that makes you laugh but also terrifies you because of how quietly it rings true. O’Halloran’s colors emphasize these effects even further by mixing a brilliant combination of flashy pastels, neon yellows and greens, and and dark, cool colors in the subtlest of ways. No space is a wasted color, whether it be the borders in between panels, the title page, or the cover. It accentuates the most important details so that the reader feels scared without quite knowing why, which sets an excellent tone for the book.
The cover is an amazing example of how this creative team leaves no wasted space. Without even turning the page, the reader is clued into the the story that awaits complete with the bright colors, cliche advertisements, frightened dialogue from Will, and Rick’s always familiar catchphrase: “lickety split.” The cover immediately pulls the reader into the world of reality TV instead of spending time to do so during the actual comic. The team is then able to focus more on the intelligent commentary, awkward laughs, and unsettling horror elements that make this comic stand out.
What really adds the cherry on top of this sundae is the lettering by Good Old Neon. They don’t seem to have any previous work, and there is little other information about them, but elements from the David Foster Wallace story their name is based off of ring true in this book. A lot of the people we see issue to issue feel like frauds in some way, and very intentional lettering choices such as lowercase lettering, accurate TV show titles and captions, and extremely limited use of onomatopoeia take the reader through the issue at a slow and methodical pace to make sure they feel everything. Good Old Neon’s lettering slows the reader down, and that’s a very powerful effect for a letterer to have.
Finally moving past the structure, however, Ice Cream Man #11’s content is a scathing look at the dangers and toxicity of reality TV. Blatantly referencing shows like The Bachelor, Family Feud, Chopped, America’s Got Talent, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, the issue takes a stab about the harm each and every one of them can bring, and flips each show into a twisted and grotesque version of itself. Will gets herded through shows like a sheep as each new program shows him and the reader a sadistic version of what he’s used to watching. Whether it be the Kardashians as zombies, The Bachelor with mannequins, or Chopped with body parts, the issue never ceases to use shock and awe to illustrate to the reader the brainless content they’re devouring. Throw in some extra manipulation from the ice cream man and Will’s genuine introspective musings as he realizes where his life’s gone wrong, and you have a story that goes much further than just a few laughs and scares.
Ice Cream Man #11 is gripping and enticing as we follow Will through the reality TV house of horrors and learn a little more about the ice cream man’s dark layer sometimes called “The Sweet Place.” The full and complete use of every element of each page keeps readers at a slow pace to make sure they feel every funny, frightening, and uncomfortable moment in the issue. It’s a comic for anyone willing to get a little scared and to learn a bit more about the human experience of suffering while having a good time. Lickety split.