They Called Him Charles – Script by Jerzy Łanuszewski, Art by Ewa Ciałowicz
It isn’t often that you review a book where you quote the entire text of the book and where even the title alone can be considered a spoiler. Even at this point the review is already longer than the entire text content of They Called Him Charles. Such is the nature of reviewing comics, which don’t even necessarily have to have any text at all to tell a story. In the case of They Called Him Charles by Jerzy Łanuszewski and Ewa Ciałowicz, the idea of the providing those four words as the punchline to every page in the book might seem limiting – and admittedly that does make it predictable to a certain extent – but there’s a lot you can do within those restrictions to make this amusing and even pull a few surprises as well.
At the risk of labouring a review and stating the obvious about a 32 page comic with only four words of repeated text, They Called Him Charles consists of 32 pages, each depicting a situation where someone presumably called Charles, is killed in a variety of unfortunate, gruesome, brutal, imaginative and sometimes unexpected ways. All of these grimly amusing deaths come with the punchline “They Called Him Charles”, delivered – usually but not always – by the person responsible for his death, in an “Oh my God, they killed Kenny!” kind of way.
Evidently, despite the limitations of the format, there are a considerable number of ways for someone called Charles to meet with this inevitable fate, and there are of course variations in how these situations are drawn. Initially we have six panel pages with the expected pronouncement of the name of the unfortunate victim “revealed” in the last panel, but Ewa Ciałowicz also expands to a number of splash page variations. Sometimes even Charles is already dead at the start, and his body mutilated or desecrated before we learn of his name. It’s rarely pronounced in a sympathetic way.
There’s potentially much amusement to be found in the creative executions of men (and other entities) called Charles devised by Jerzy Łanuszewski, but evidently a lot of the humour is visual and comes from the bold colourful artwork of Ewa Ciałowicz. You could get tired of the one-note joke very quickly, but the artwork is so gorgeous that you might be inclined to linger over a page for a little longer and appreciate the colourful rendition of the jet black humour.
You could if you like also consider whether there is a more philosophical purpose to They Called Him Charles, whether it has something or say or makes you think about the cruel inevitable fate and the many ways we can meet it (and if you’re called Charles it seems to suggest that you have a rather more unfortunate and unmourned way out of this world than most), but I think I’ve already more than made a meal out of a review of a short and consistently funny comic with great art that really needs no such analysis.
They Called Him Charles is at the very least an essential purchase for anyone who has a friend called Charles. It’s an even more essential purchase for anyone who hates someone called Charles with a vengeance, who might delight in images of him meeting a satisfyingly grim end, and may even have devised even more gruesome imaginary fates for that person in their own head. But watch out for the sequel, because it might have your name on it.
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