The sad clown is a trope that has been well-used in every storytelling media there is, but Whit Taylor’s Up Down Clown from Ninth Art Press takes that trope further than usual. Rather than settling for the simple dichotomy of make-up and merriment hiding gloom, Taylor examines how a mental state might fluctuate with the very implications of clown behavior, how the despair that lurks under the make-up exists counter to the manic behavior of a clown type. Even the make-up is an extreme version of human emotion, painted on a face that might be hiding the depths underneath. Doesn’t the sad clown trope really point to some other, more extreme mental state that is defined by its stark opposites?
Gabe Scallop is the kind of clown who is hired for children’s parties, but he has bigger dreams. At one party, he meets and hits it off with Ella, making a connection solid enough to move forward into a relationship. But this is just the flashback, and the present that frames the book is a signpost that things didn’t work out quite the way Gabe had hoped, as he sits in a hospital, recovering from a suicide attempt.
Taylor mixes up the chronology in such a way that the temporal makes way for the psychological, as Gabe’s awareness of what is actually happening to him becomes clearer to him the more he drowns in the behavior. He may be stricken by a crippling depression, but he is also blessed with a soaring energy that seems to help him get things done, unless it’s derailing him by causing him to misplace a natural sense of boundaries and appropriate behavior.
Taylor follows the relationship and also the aftermath, including Gabe’s interaction with his sister, his friends, his band, and potential business partners, as he looks back not only on the more recent events with Ella, but troubled ones from his childhood, specifically involving his father, and helping him weave a narrative that places him perhaps not at the end of his own story, but more near the center.
John Seven is a journalist and children’s book author living in Western Massachusetts who has written about comics for a number of publications over the years. Follow him on Twitter @damnjohnseven. John will be contributing regular comics reviews to The Beat on Tuesdays at 5PM. To welcome him to the fold, this week we’ll be posting his reviews on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.