The danger and allure of comic book fantasy in Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen

In 1998, New Zealand cartoonist Dylan Horrocks wrote a 250-page graphic novel called Hicksville, about a comic book artist and a journalist writing a biography of the artist. The Comics Journal awarded it "Book of the Year." I loved it (here's my review). Now, 17 years later, Horrocks has released his second graphic novel, called Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen. Like Hicksville, it's about comic book artists and the allure of comic books. And also like Hicksville, it, too, is worthy of an award.

The story begins with a frustrated Kiwi cartoonist named Sam Zabel. He used to loved self-publishing comic books, but is now stuck writing stories for a major comics publisher and not having any fun. He's got a bad case of writer's block, and is depressed. One day, while visiting a used book store, Zabel stumbles on a 1950s science fiction comic that magically sucks him into an Edgar Rice Burroughs-like version of Mars, which is populated by a harem of naked green-skinned alien women who welcome him as their hero-husband and want to make him the star of their orgy.

After sort-of-but-not-really resisting their advances he explores his strange new environment, meeting other humans and comic book characters who, like him, are trapped in a universe that blends fiction and reality, jumping from one comic-book genre to another. As Zabel travels through these alternate worlds, he comes to terms with the reasons why comic books appeal to him, and the joys and hazards of disappearing down the rabbit hole of fantasy.

See sample pages of Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen at Wink.