The Playwright rather enjoys a quiet moment in the local park. It is a good place to mentally sort his ideas, and is often frequented by pretty young ladies. He once saw a pigeon defecate onto a businessman's shoulder. It struck him as absurd that such an event is often considered lucky. Surely the luck lay with passers-by who, statistically, were far less likely to be similarly soiled, at that precise moment. Similarly, the Playwright always derived an almost perverse sense of relief whenever he received news that an old friend had developed prostate cancer. Because statistically, he reasoned, such news significantly reduced the chances of him being similarly afflicted. And to be honest, at his age, his prostate needed all the statistical support he could muster."
The Playwright: a dark, romantic comedy about the sex life of a celibate, middle-aged man.
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Starred Review. This intimate look into the self-isolated existence of a successful middle-aged playwright is told in a dispassionate observational style, with its words perfectly coupled with From Hell artist Campbell's evocative wash-toned illustrations. Wistful and quite melancholy, this narrative examines the playwright's world and reveals how his loveless upbringing programmed him for a life marked by self-esteem issues and self-sabotage in his abortive relationships with women. Unexpectedly, when his parents die, the playwright allows his mentally challenged brother to move in and hires a full-time nurse to attend to him. As his brother and the nurse settle in, the playwright encounters a caring family situation for the first time, and his association with the nurse blossoms into a relationship that slowly draws him out of his virtual hermitage while simultaneously replacing the hollowness of his success. But now that he's coming out of his shell, what will become of his career? At times painful and uncomfortable, this quiet character study details the playwright's state of œrelentless mental narration and succeeds on several levels, but its most potent component is the clearly recognizable and utterly naked humanity.
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Campbell follows up his massive, decades-spanning Alec omnibus with this far more modest but equally masterful account of a sexually repressed middle-aged author who's successful at writing about life but a failure at living it. The titular character's mundane existence is limned in a series of low-key vignettes—riding the bus, cashing a check—that generally find him falling into sexual fantasizing. Gradually, however, he finds himself engaging with the world as he reconnects with his family—they'd become estranged after he used them as fodder for his plays—and develops emotional attachments, leading to a deleterious effect on his creativity. Although he generally writes as well as draws his comics, here Campbell is working from a story by his occasional scripter White, and the collaboration is seamless. On horizontal pages, each with just two or three brightly watercolored panels, the pair eschew dialogue in word balloons in favor of omniscient narration placed above the drawings, an approach that mirrors the playwright's detachment from society. Its modest scope and humble protagonist shouldn't obscure the genuine accomplishment of this sensitively observed, perfectly realized work. --Gordon Flagg
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