Halo and Sprocket, Vol. 2: Natural Creatures
Written and Illustrated by Kerry Callen
First thought on receiving a review copy of the book in the mail: Uh oh. I haven’t read Volume 1 yet. I’d better see if I can get that one sent to me so I can review it first.
First thought on reading the letter that accompanied the book: Hmm. It’s been five years since Volume 1 came out. There are probably a lot of folks who haven’t read that one. Maybe I should just dive in and see how it reads to someone new.
First thought five pages into the book: Reads really well, actually.
On the back cover of the book, Randy Lander calls Halo and Sprocket “the perfect sitcom.” With all respect to Lander, I disagree; mostly because that description raises expectations that I don’t know if Halo and Sprocket is trying to meet. I tend to judge comedies on one thing only: how much they make me laugh. And while Halo and Sprocket is cute and charming and insightful, I didn’t find it uproarious or side-splitting. Nor do I think it was intended to be.
Maybe what Lander meant by “sitcom” (I haven’t read his full review) has more to do with the book’s format. It’s not a narrative with a plot; it’s a series of short stories about a young woman who lives with a robot and an angel. More Casper the Friendly Ghost format than Owly, if that distinction makes sense. The stories are all delightful and funny, so yes, “situational comedy” is definitely an appropriate label, but again, you won’t be struggling to breathe from laughing too hard. You’ll be smiling though. Widely.
At the risk of turning this into a review of other people’s reviews, I think Phil Hester’s back-cover blurb is dead on. He says that “no other comic can be as funny without being cruel, as sweet without being syrupy, as smart without being cynical, and even as romantic without being sentimental.”
The stories in Volume 2 are all of those things: funny, sweet, smart, and – without a single kiss or even so much as a longing glance – romantic. It does all this primarily by being perceptive. The young woman Katie represents human nature, Sprocket the robot provides unbiased (but not “cold;” he’s far too warm and endearing for that) logic, and Halo the angel looks at things from an elevated point of view (though he carefully avoids giving away secrets about things like the afterlife or which religion is correct). The combination of their outlooks helps each story reveal something about human nature. Sometimes the revelation is profound (it’s easy for us to destroy when we can’t see the destruction ourselves), sometimes it’s puzzling (what makes shaved legs more attractive than shaved arms?), and sometimes it’s just funny (did you know that the hand signal for “got your nose” used to mean “I’ve got to take a dump?”).
I can’t emphasize enough how attractive and adorable Halo and Sprocket is, but those qualities aren’t enough by themselves to make it memorable and meaningful. It avoids being vapid (to steal from the third back-cover blurbers vocabulary) by asking these questions. It doesn’t always answer them, but in allowing each of the three characters to think them through, Callen gives us the tools we need in order to mull them over ourselves as well. Volume 1 may not be required reading to understand Volume 2, but now I want to read it anyway.