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In Case of Fire, Turn into Rabbit on Game and Player

In Case of Fire, Turn into Rabbit

Michael Ubaldi  //  October 2, 2009

A tribute to two years of Mr. Overbrooke.


e were in the graces of Greco-American hospitality, the several of us who spent a Saturday evening dining at Cafe Stratos, when the conversation turned to Mr. Overbrooke, Esq. & Associates. The balance of an hour had just been spent on naming the sins of revisionism throughout the Star Wars trilogies, a discussion led by me. I learned later that the young woman who would become my friend Danny's wife found that topic somnolent, but could listen for a whole sitting to my other friend Gabe McElwain's orderly thoughts on comic art.

Gabe's attention focused on word balloons: how writers and artists apportioned them among panels, why their narrow definition neglected creative opportunities, and whether they could be of some unorthodox use. Most of the lecture escapes me — concepts are, for my part, better applied than explored — but the event was unforgettable, particularly Gabe's interest in a campus newspaper cartoon he had discontinued upon graduating from the University of Chicago a few years before. When, in late 2007, Game and Player editors Jeremy Steeves and Ed Kirchgessner and I sought, for our skeletally crewed magazine, content with substance and correspondence with our charter, I drew on the memory.

The uncertainty of restarting Mr. Overbrooke held possibilities.I asked Gabe about Mr. Overbrooke. Ever deliberate, he thought about the proposition before replying. "I'd like to give it a try," he finally wrote. "I think the thing to do is to pick up more or less where I left off with single-panel, self-contained comics without giving it too much overwrought planning or second-guessing myself." Uncertainty held possibilities. "I know the comics evolved a fair amount due to the constraints of appearing in a newspaper. I'm excited to see how doing a strip primarily for the internet will change it over time."

Mr. Overbrooke, Esq. & Associates began publication on Game and Player in perfect fidelity to that statement. The first submissions shared the style of panels and strips from June 2003, as if the comic's run had merely resumed. By January 2008, Gabe began his study of word balloons; an encyclopedic one, producing upwards of seventy-five proofs. His substitution of Photoshop for construction paper and paste traded nuances of the strip's trademark craftsmanship at first for efficiency; then — as Gabe had anticipated — a few idiomatic flourishes; then finally a mature rendition of Mr. Overbrooke's original, hand-drawn technique.

Gabe's trains of thought run independently of the world around him.This evidenced a kind of completion; maybe coincidentally, maybe not. Last month Gabe confided that he was "struggling mightily" with creation. Fair enough — I have spent the last weeks mostly indifferent to, and thus editorially terse on, events in the video gaming industry. And here Gabe, who divides his free time between a great many things, had delivered thoughtfully every week for nearly 104 weeks. Well, I told him, Game and Player's new layout could be altered to exclude the comic, and you may be free of obligation after the end of the month. The final panel of Mr. Overbrooke appeared on September 25, 2009.

I wonder if that cartoon was made to be apropos, but I have asked before about other ones, and they usually aren't. Gabe's trains of thought run independently of the world around him. Should they intersect with the moment, so much the better for the literal-minded among us. Otherwise, Mr. Overbrooke suits not even an acquired taste, but one that is particular and innate. It is subtle and dialectic, naturally from a philosophy graduate. It disappoints readers scanning for block-letter punchlines, ready to blame the author when they find none — while inviting those familiar with the strip to interpret Gabe's lapidary message, then smile, chuckle, or laugh.

Whimsy is a medium through which Gabe offers sober observations.It helps to know how Mr. Overbrooke came to be. Whimsy is a medium through which Gabe offers sober observations; even the first panels' puns are dispassionate arrangements of language. The genesis of Mr. Overbrooke is itself humor writing which nevertheless poses a valid question: How in the world does an unconstructed residential street persist through decades of cartography? Valid, if obscure. Virtually no one is asking, and even fewer care — but what if someone investigated and developed a thesis? If you care about that, then you understand Mr. Overbrooke.

Mr. Overbrooke's prior run ended with an unconfirmed but manifestly autobiographical panel on the fortuity of risk and reward in the big, big world outside. If Gabe believed life was impromptu then, I say he still thinks so now; and is just as contemplative. That is all we can ask for, not least because it gave us Mr. Overbrooke.

(Editor's note: Although Mr. Overbrooke, Esq. & Associates will no longer regularly appear on Game and Player, an archive of published comics has been made available.)

Michael Belanger // October 3, 2009 // 3:11 PM

Gabe is a genius..........period.

Mr_Overbrooke // October 5, 2009 // 3:13 PM

I think every artist's dearest wish is that someday someone will take their work seriously. Well, today my wish came true. Thanks, Mike. Thanks also to two years' worth of G&P readers for grappling with my crazy experiments week in and week out. It was a privilege to appear on your monitors.

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