In this fantastical debut graphic novel, authorities imprison a man for inventing a perpetual-motion machine.
George Harrison sells junky used cars for a living, a profession of which he’s not proud. Still, he needs to support his wife, Susan, and two kids. Then a potentially lucrative opportunity presents itself when he accidentally invents a perpetual-motion machine when he tosses some metal parts and gears into a box. George brings it to Susan’s brother, John, a professor of physics, for inspection. But the college’s dean, Bennie, calls a shady political operative, Charlie, in Washington, D.C., for fear that such technology will decimate the labor market. The situation is classified a “Case 19,” which is apparently a dire crisis, and George is arrested and placed in Science Prison, charged with the violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics. In this wildly comical tale by Newman, festooned with goofy, childlike, uncredited illustrations, George makes the acquaintance of Tina, a paradoxically beautiful but invisible woman who helps him to escape prison. He’s also accompanied by the cheerful Keeko, whose “atoms are too close together” and is terrifyingly powerful, who was imprisoned for violating the Law of Gravity. In a story as resistant to synopsis as it is to confident comprehension, there are thoughtful animal pets, time travel, and a subplot involving Saddam Hussein, who can apparently occupy two places at the same time. Newman’s giddy combination of slapstick comedy, cartoonlike pictorials, and social commentary is reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s work, though it’s not at all obvious what critique of society is being made. The book has the look of a first draft—it’s a heavy binder of unnumbered pages that seem hastily produced by hand. The story can be funny but is more often than not better described as silly, as if the ultimate point is to find the limit of the absurdly unpredictable. As a result, the plot, to the extent that there is one, is so disjointed it becomes increasingly challenging to follow and finally quite laborious.
An imaginative but confusing work of literary vaudeville.