|Grrl Scouts: Work Sucks
By Jim Mahfood
Image Comics – softcover, $12.95
I read Jim Mahfood’s first Grrl Scouts series when it was first serialized by Oni Press in 1999, but somehow never got around to his 2003 follow-up until recently. My mistake, as Work Sucks is an improvement on the already enjoyable original in every way.
The original Grrl Scouts followed Gwen, Daphne and Rita on their rounds, selling drugs disguised in cookie boxes throughout Freak City (also home to Mahfood’s Zombie Kid). Their business and their lives are threatened when the Brotherhood of the Cracker, led by Philip Nykee, decides that they are taking business from Brotherhood dealers. Much violence and corporate destruction ensues. This makes for an entertaining and funny romp, though it slips into caricature a little too often; some of the jokes would work better in Mahfood’s shorter strips like Stupid Comics than in a longer story like this.
Mahfood wisely goes a different route in Work Sucks. The simplistic good and evil storyline and violence of the first series worked once, but would have gotten old on repetition. Instead, Mahfood takes the sequel in a more interesting direction, what I’d call a “lifestyle comic,” reveling in art, culture and personality. The characters have more room to breath and Mahfood’s politics and cultural commentary come out in the form of conversation and character moments rather than casting a priest with horns as a villain or blowing up the Nykee Corporation. Some of the most impassioned moments of the book comes in the form of a joyful odes to graffiti art and hip hop culture (both influences on Mahfood’s art style).
The story concerns the aftermath of the events of the first series, which have driven the grrls to lay low and take on regular jobs. While there’s a little bit of action in the latter half of the book, for the most part it takes the opportunity to flesh out the characters beyond the one or two attributes each were given the first time around. The story really belongs to Gwen, as Daphne and Rita fall pretty easily into positions that suit them. Shorn of the opportunity to regularly beat on people, Gwen has to figure out what matters to her, and the eventual answer is surprising, but fitting.
Holding the two books side by side, the growth in Mahfood’s art is clear. His style has become much more confident since 1999. Figures are bolder and simpler, with extraneous detail removed, creating cartoonier, more expressive characters. Mahfood also does his own lettering this time around, a welcome change since his unique letters and idiosyncratic mix of upper- and lowercase fits the art much better than the generic lettering of the first series.
As usual with Mahfood’s books, a nice selection of extras round out the book. The Grrl Scouts story, “Just Another Day…,” which originally appeared in Dark Horse Maverick’s Happy Endings anthology is reprinted in the back. I was pleased to see that included here, since Happy Endings ran the story at a smaller size and, at an average of 23 panels per page, it really benefits from being larger. Also included is a sketchbook section showcasing cover and character designs, along with jokes about how low-key Work Sucks is compared to the first series, plus a section of guest pin-ups and even a cute guest strip.
One final nice touch is that the four issues collected in Work Sucks are reprinted in their entirety – cover, inside front cover, story, inside back cover, back cover – preserving all the guest art, legal page illustrations and soundtrack suggestions. It’s an attractive package for a very pretty and very funny story.