Dorothy Gambrell’s New Adventures of Death, reviewed by Matt Trepal

Is Death a popular guy? Does he have lots of friends? Does he enjoy his job of collecting the souls of the newly deceased and ushering them to their final reward, or does he secretly yearn for something that makes him feel better about himself? These might be, and sometimes are, the issues covered in Dorothy Gambrell’s Modern Tales strip, The New Adventures of Death.

Like Gambrell’s other strips (Cat and Girl and The Four Fours), The New Adventures of Death is an exercise in understated surrealism. Death hangs out with Mars and Anubis, yet winds up holding a job at a Lost and Found window. As it turns out, being Death actually seems to have little or no effect on what he’s doing. Which is why, I suppose, they are his new adventures.

Gambrell’s artwork is distinct and recognizable, a solid style that both complements and contrasts with her writing. Unlike her two other strips, Gambrell uses full color for The New Adventures of Death — a move that contrasts brightly-colored backgrounds with Death’s shining white skull. One interesting touch that has developed over the strip’s run is that only the foreground objects and characters are outlined. Although this was not the case early on, now all background objects are rendered in colored swaths, allowing the objects in the foreground to stand out even more distinctly.

The strips run in short story arcs, each unrelated to the other: Death is a prisoner of pirates, he is an astronaut, he acquires a social disease. Sometimes these short story arcs — as in "Get A Job" — come to a coherent, successful conclusion and sometimes — as in "Deadbeat" — they do not.

From the very beginning, these stories (even the ones with endings) are often of the non-sequitur variety, filled with oddities ranging from belligerent potatoes to dinosaur skeletons to parallel universes mapped like “Candy Land."

Overall, these non-sequiturs leave The New Adventures of Death floundering. If all that comedy requires is the random juxtaposition of images with text, then there’d be much more funny stuff on the Internet. The overall feeling of The New Adventures of Death is akin to Gambrell’s other comics, but where Cat and Girl satirizes popular culture and The Four Fours is specifically targeted at the music scene, this one has no purpose, no sense of direction. And it suffers for it.

The New Adventures of Death has its good moments, its funny moments. But those are generally outweighed by the oddness, the moments that leave you scratching your head and wondering whether it is you or the comic that comes up short. Best to leave this one where it lies.


  1. so basically you’re saying you don’t “get it?”

    hell of a review!

  2. Whie I usually refrain from making comments, I’d like to point out that:

    Reviews are NOT literary criticism. Reviews are written to give potential readers an impression of a work; they do not to try to educate the creator of the work as to their strengths/weaknesses and how to correct them, nor are they meant to incite discussion in academic literary circles.

    While this response was indeed quite witty, it unfortunately reveals the anonymous poster’s misconception/ignorance as to what reviews are supposed to be, as opposed to what literary criticism is supposed to be.

    It also suggests that the poster was not in agreeance with the reviewer, and that he/she felt they had to defend the work in question.

    I would suggest that it may be more profitable in the future to offer reasons as to why the work deserves a second look/better review, rather than simply (and incorrectly) lambasting the reviewer.

  3. Hmm. For the most part I agree with this review up until the last two paragraphs. But I was surprised to discover that my opinion is pretty much the opposite of that of the reviewer.

    The New Adventures of Death is a bizarre delight. It has a strong experimental streak which I find quite charming. This experimentality means that sometimes the setups don’t work, but Ms. Gambrell is a talented enough creator that even when it isn’t working it is still interesting. In any case, something new is always around the corner…

    I dunno. I read it and I see a twisted logic to everything. Death and his cronies are just regular guys…

  4. Overall, these non-sequiturs leave The New Adventures of Death floundering. If all that comedy requires is the random juxtaposition of images with text, then there’d be much more funny stuff on the Internet.

    After reading this review I decided to go back and re-read all of the Death comics. Matt Trepal is right about one thing- they are filled with images juxtaposed with text.
    Honestly, the fact that he defines Dorothy’s humor as non sequitur tells me one of two things. Either the reviewer is using a different definition of ‘non sequiter’ than the one I’m familiar with or (as R. Stevens aptly put it) he just doesn’t get it.

  5. To say that something falls short, one has to know what it aspires to. This is basically impossible to do with a strip like NAoD, one of the reasons being its (I couldn’t think of anything better) “Quirkiness”. I sadly don’t have a membership to modern tales, so I can’t look back on these strips with any great clarity, but the way I have read the strip in the past gave me the impression that NAoD is everything Dorothy wants it to be.

  6. I liked the fact that Mr. Trepal was able to speak his mind. And you know what? I agree with him! *Gasp, shock, horror* Shame on everyone for bashing him. It’s not like he was blindly bashing it. He took the time and reviewed it in a professional manner.

    I love Dorothy’s work in Cat and Girl to no end, but NAoD doesn’t speak to me in quite the same way (and I know it shouldn’t as it’s a different comic blahblahblah). Sure, it’s cute, and has made me smile a couple of times. But as a whole? It hasn’t really caught my interest enough to check it every week.

  7. The New Adventures of Death doesn’t just meander. It’s an apt critique of jobs, and of having definition based on your job alone. Death is “Death” because that’s what he used to do. He’s left his job and is still “Death,” which lends itself to the angstyness. As for the “non-sequitors,” if you can call them that, the strip is aiming at the old fashioned serials. Did every episode of the Phantom make sense in the context of the others?
    Oh, and as for the pirates, CandyLand and the potatoes, the main character is Death. I think it gives the writer some license to play with the absurd.

  8. Matt Trepal’s review of Dorothy Gambrell’s New Adventures of Death, entitled oddly enough “Dorothy Gambrell’s New Adventures of Death, reviewed by Matt Trepal”, is a traditional work of literary criticism. As such it gives a brief outline of the work in question followed by highlights of the work’s successes and failings. Overall, these juxtapositions leave the review floundering. If all that literary criticism requires is a description of what the reviewer does not like about the work in question, then there’d be much more critics on the Internet. (Ugh, never mind that last one). Towards the end the review runs into a self analyzing quandary. And it suffers for it. Best leave THAT ONE where it lies.

  9. But the reviewer does know to which point he wants TNAoD to aspire, and it falls short of those aspirations. I think it’s a far cry to say that noting the understanding the goals of a “quirky” strip is “basically impossible”.

  10. For the record, I posit that criticism is the biggest sham in academia– ask any writer worth the ink on their pages.

  11. For the record, I posit that the comment two comments above this one was criticism, as well.

Comments are closed.