If there’s a true inheritor of the mantle of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, then I’d say it’s got to be Jef Mallett’s Frazz: Well-drawn (with more than a hint of Bill Watterson’s style), intelligent, and occasionally-off-the-wall, it’s got that tension between childlike fun and cynicism down pat.
The second collection came out last year: 99% Perspiration. The setting is Bryson Elementary School, and our titular hero is the janitor of that fine institution. But Frazz is something of a renaissance man, an avid bicyclist and jogger, he also earns money writing songs. And he’s got a crush on Miss Plainwell, one of the teachers. Bryson is populated by a variety of teachers, from the grouchy Mrs. Olsen to Frazz’ friend Mr. Burke (he and Frazz are just hopeless at basketball, by the way).
Frazz mostly plays goalie for the school’s student population, propping them up when they get run down and giving them perspective when their youthful exuberance and, uh, creativity run away with them. Frazz has a special fondness for Caulfield, a brilliant kid who finds school boring beyond belief, but who loves hanging out with Frazz.
Mallett’s one of the better artists working the comic strip page these days, and some of his gags have a certain wonderful simplicity:
(Click to view the strip)
Mallett’s sense of humor often takes an intellectual bent; you’ve gotta appreciate a guy who can mix zaniness with intellectual/cultural trivia:
Lest the comparisons to Calvin and Hobbes get laid on a little too heavily (and there are plenty more at the Wikipedia article), my feeling is that fundamentally Frazz is a funny, creative strip which feels more textured than most strips around today, and Mallett is just a darned good artist. While there are stylistic similarities, I assume they are mainly an homage to Watterson, whose strip I think Mallett admired (as did we all), as he pays homage to a few other people in the strip, too.
It took a while for Frazz to get my attention, but it’s got it now. It’s one of the gems of the comics page. Funny, charming. Check it out.
(You can also buy the first Frazz collection, Live at Bryson Elementary.)