Matt Coyle, Worry Doll (MAM TOR, 2007)
Written over the course of six years, Matt Coyle’s ambitious Worry Doll is without doubt intricate, funny, captivating, a little depraved and very, very dark — everything that was promised, really: “gothic noir disguised as a children’s book.” A worry doll — a little hand-made thing placed under a pillow to take away bad dreams and anxiety, similar to a dreamcatcher — takes on a whole new meaning under the direction of Coyle’s nib. In his story, a trio of children’s dolls — a golliwog, a ventriloquist’s doll and a rag dog with a Chapman brothers-like phallic nose — discover their family murdered in the living room, leave the crime scene and embark on a road trip that makes Kerouac’s jaunt in a jalopy seem well-mannered.
At first, the story’s pint of view appears to belong to the dolls, but as it progresses, the voice we hear belongs to that of a man who has brought his cherished toys along in a suitcase to witness his crime, like a twisted version of that already-twisted (and over-looked) Anthony Hopkins film, Magic. There is a very cinematic feel to Worry Doll, and some of the panels are reminiscent of a film story-board. If Worry Doll were a film, though, it would be less Richard Attenborough who, lest we forget, mined some pretty dark corners, and more David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
The presentation of Worry Doll only adds to the suspense and general unease: there are no word balloons, instead the narrative is told on the left hand page as prose, the drawings accompanying on the right, feeling less of a graphic novel and more of an art book. And the drawings… there is a photo-realist quality to Coyle’s work, like the paintings of Chuck Close except in Coyle’s case, they are rendered in black and white with fine-tip pens. The unsettling life-likeness of the dolls changes as the page is flipped; their are drawings within drawings; and the human figures that are present seem wooden in comparison to the puppets. In the graphic novel world, Worry Doll probably comes closest to Dan Clowes’ internal world, yet the William Burroughs’ cut-up Naked Lunch type narrative makes it something more grotesque and a little more psychotic. Executed with great force and a provocative quirkiness, Worry Doll offers a minefield of multiple readings, and with the filmic quality to the work, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Matt Coyle’s Worry Doll follows Persepolis to the big screen.
Susan Tomaselli lives in Ireland where she edits the inimitable Dogmatika and is Comics Co-Editor of 3:AM.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, March 8th, 2007.