Cool Comics: “Reid Fleming World’s Toughest Milkman”

February 23, 2011 by rudy panucci

David Boswell’s “Reid Fleming World’s Toughest Milkman” was one of the last great “underground” comics, even though its publishing history sometimes sees it lumped in with the 1980s black-and-white comics boom.

This strip began life in the Vancouver underground newspaper, “The Georgia Straight,” in 1978, and it tells the adventures of a hard-drinking, anti-social, ultra violent Milkman, Reid Fleming, who don’t take no crap from nobody.

IDW has collected the first decade or so of Reid Fleming’s adventures in one handy hardcover volume, and it’s not only a long-overdue collection of one of the best indie comics of the 1980s, but it also shows off the evolution of writer/artist David Boswell as a storyteller.

The early strips are essentially gag comics.  Reid Fleming is a 1970s-style anti-hero, but his adventures and attitude are straight out of the 1930s.  The character has charisma of the type that Charlie Manson had.  The early strips in this collection are like Three Stooges style two-reelers in comic form, only with the Stooges replaced with Manson in a Milkman’s outfit. They’re outrageously funny, but they’re also only the tip of the iceberg, in terms of showing what Boswell was capable of doing.

“Reid Fleming World’s Toughest Milkman” was originally a throw-away gag strip designed to fill space while Boswell took a break from another comic strip he was writing and drawing for The Georgia Straight.  “Heart Break Comics” was a bit of a Noir soap opera, set on the fringes of show business in what appears to be the 1930s.  Fleming was a minor character, based on a bully from Boswell’s childhood, but when he was given his chance to star, popular demand forced Boswell to change to focus to him.

This is pretty much the same thing that happened when E.C. Segar introduced Popeye into “Thimble Theater” in the 1920s.  This is fitting because you can detect a stong Segar influence in Boswell’s work, along with artisitc nods to the work of underground masters, Kim Dietch and Bill Griffith.

In this collection, after about thirty pages of the early Reid Fleming strips, we get Boswell’s re-drawn 1984 version of “Heart Break Comics.”  Fleming is a minor character in this graphic novella that tells the story of Lazlo, the Great Slavic Lover. This book showed how much Boswell had grown, with am emgrossing long-form story and tighter artwork.  This tale of love and betrayal is an amazing work that crams an incredible amount of story into 40 pages.

Having proven that he could tell a long-form story, and having exorcised his original “Heart Break Comics” ideas, Boswell tore into a 132-page epic, “Rogue To Riches”  Bringing Fleming clearly into the 1980s, while still maintaining a 1930s sensibility, Boswell lets Reid Fleming be a full-fledged star with a story that is begging to be turned into a Hollywood movie.

“Reid Fleming World’s Toughest Milkman” is a real must-have for fans of the graphic novel format who enjoy underground edginess, but like a little mean-spirited humor thrown in for good measure.  It’s great anachronistic fun from one of comic’s most-talented obscure master cartoonists.  With this collection, the first of two volumes that will collect all of Reid Fleming’s adventures, maybe that can change, as more people are exposed to David Boswell’s rough-and-tumble Milkman.

You can order this book from Amazon, or locally, from Taylor Books. ISBN-13: 978-1600108020.

One Response to “Cool Comics: “Reid Fleming World’s Toughest Milkman””

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