July 4, 2020

20° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast



Advertise With Us

Drawing on the absurd

Among plenty of awkward interactions, graphic-fiction collection brings some laughs

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/7/2019 (357 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The title of Nick Maandag’s new book, The Follies of Richard Wadsworth, is actually a misnomer.

The story Wadsworth is a campus satire loaded with odious rivals, dying disciplines, bureaucracy and precarious labour (the titular Wadsworth is an adjunct philosophy instructor whose last university appointment ended badly, for reasons which become quickly apparent).

DRAWN AND QUARTERLY</p><p>Nick Maandag’s The Follies of Richard Wadsworth is a graphic-fiction collection containing three stories.</p>


Nick Maandag’s The Follies of Richard Wadsworth is a graphic-fiction collection containing three stories.

But the follies also extend to two other stories, Night School, about a fire prevention chief who ends up in charge of a business admin class, and The Disciple, in which a young, celibate monk grapples with lust at a coed monastery.

All three tales in this collection essentially chronicle folks who refuse to adhere to their given role in already-established systems, and instead hold their own rigid ideas about how things should work as Maandag takes us for an awkward, disorienting ride.

Always, absurdity ensues — after overhearing some gossip about the fate of the Classics department, the titular Wadsworth literally climbs a wall to escape being seen. The expertly paced Night School is perfectly Kafkaesque, as questions from all involved are met with increasingly ridiculous punishments (one of which also involves a wall). The Disciple’s abominable sight of monks include Brother Bananas, a monkey who is evidently not the only one succumbing to his basest instincts. Throughout the book, the intentional monotony of meticulously cross-hatched panels complements the storylines well. Many characters also share some of the same facial features, which the author exploits to its full potential.

Sometimes hilarity also ensues, as Maandag fully embraces the discordance of a lighthearted tone while depicting some truly awful situations. The kind of deadpan cringe-humour Maandag deploys in these stories is particularly reminiscent of Tim Robinson’s hit Netflix sketch comedy series I Think You Should Leave, also rife with horrible people and elaborate punchlines that result from characters doubling down on their terrible choices and actions. The difference, though, is that while Robinson’s characters are more or less equal in status, Maandag instead uses characters from different walks of life to point out the corruption in power structures.

While this sometimes works to a delightful effect — in Wadsworth, for example, the titular instructor confuses a caretaker with the dean, mentally imbuing the former with the authority of the latter — Mandaag also writes numerous gags in which those who don’t benefit from the power imbalance are the target of the jokes. Notably, female students are preyed upon quite explicitly by authority figures in Wadsworth and The Disciple, and the teacher in Night School doesn’t fare much better after relinquishing control of her class to the deranged fire chief who just happened to be investigating a faulty alarm.

Maandag is obviously an equal-opportunity satirist, but opportunities (and subject positions) are, unfortunately, not equal, something that often goes unaccounted for when interpersonal boundaries are pushed to absurd limits for a gag and the perpetrator’s actions still go mostly unacknowledged, let alone unpunished.

Although The Follies of Richard Wadsworth is clearly interested in dismantling power dynamics within established structures (and pointing out hypocrisy in systems that only benefit certain people), setting up the less privileged to take the fall for a lark doesn’t quite work. Though the book’s central characters are visibly incompetent, they still wield (and abuse) power to an uncomfortable, ruthlessly accurate degree. But we already know that this regularly happens, and some good schadenfreude when these men occasionally get their comeuppance isn’t necessarily enough to combat the malaise of realizing how pervasive Maandag’s breed of unchanging, self-absorbed rule-breakers are.

Winnipeg’s Nyala Ali writes about race and gender in contemporary narratives.


Advertise With Us

By buying through links provided on this page, you are supporting local writers, reviewers and book sellers.

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.


Advertise With Us