Entertainment Weekly called Mike Dawson’s debut graphic novel, Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody, “undeniably contagious”, while the UK Daily Telegraph said it was “Charming, sincere and, above all, expressively drawn”. Troop 142, his second graphic novel, was nominated for multiple Ignatz Awards, including Outstanding Graphic Novel, and was the winner in the Online Comic category. Dawson is also the author of a six-issue comic series called Gabagool!, a collection of short stories entitled Ace-Face: The Mod With the Metal Arms, and is the co-host of The Ink Panthers Show!, a comics-themed “lifestyle” podcast.
IN THE EMPORIUM
Mike’s comics can be found in the Secret Acres Emporium here.
Best Books Of 2011
Six Graphic Novels That Will Draw You In:
Pinewood Forest Boy Scout Camp, New Jersey, 1995. The bewildered, enraged, hormone-addled boys of Troop 142 — and their fathers — face a week in the wilderness, struggling with their peers, their fears and great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts. In this deceptively straightforward comic, Dawson digs deep into what it means to be a man, a boy, a father, a friend. Dawson remembers the intractable dilemmas faced by boys who want desperately to be liked but fear standing out — the problems of an age in which your bunkmate may have a mustache while you still watch Voltron. Dawson’s art is observant and eye-catching, and he has a way with dialogue; these boys, working hard to seem more awesome than their years, are as profane as you probably were at that age. This is a gem of a book, a minor masterpiece of American malehood at its most nerve-racking.
- Dan Kois, NPR
The 20 Best Comic Books of 2011
8. Troop 142
After tackling his favorite rock band Queen in the decent Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody, Mike Dawson’s second book focuses on a week-long camping trip of Boy Scout Troop 142 in the mid 1990s. Each of his many characters receives moments of sympathy and cruelty, including the adults. These boys and men do things you don’t quite understand, even when you have all the information (they don’t). It recognizes the flaws in the Scout philosophy, but it doesn’t harp
on them. It also shows the Lord of the Flies-type behavior of the adolescent male in an almost Margaret Mead fashion, observing with a neutral but fascinated eye as they experiment with profanity, drugs, new identities and more. Troop 142 is a terrifically subtle book that’s as funny as it is intelligent painful, and touching, and Dawson never flinches in his role as its creator.
- Hillary Brown, Paste Magazine
- Brian Cronin, Comic Book Resources
The boys of Boy Scout Troop 142 spend a week at a camp in the Pinewood Forest. The camp’s director, Big Bear, wants to instill character in the boys. But they spend most of their time talking about girls,
cursing, and worrying that other scouts are going to think they’re gay. Some do drugs while others focus on merit badges. At the end of the week someone will win the Golden Dildo Award (for whoever does the most boneheaded thing) and the Grunge Sponge Award (for whoever showers the least).
Why I picked it up: My friend Gina said my new book Poopy Claws squicked her out a bit, and told me this one had, too.
Why I finished it: I was hooked at the beginning, when the boys’ discussion about how they wipe their butts resulted in one kid being called “poopy balls” for a few pages.
I’d give it to: Rick, who laughed at the beginning of Melvin Burgess’ overly realistic look into the sex-obsessed minds of teens, Doing It, where three boys discuss who they would rather have sex with: the
ugliest girl in school, a filthy homeless woman, an old teacher, or the Queen.
- Gene Ambaum, Unshelved
At first glance, Mike Dawson’s new graphic novel, Troop 142, is puerile, crass, plot-less, and borderline gratuitous with its extensive “poopy” talk. But anyone who has ever spent seven days at camp with a bunch of teenage boys would add to this litany: photographic, realistic, and brutally, beautifully true.
Troop 142 begins on Sunday and follows the adventures of the eponymous group of New Jersey scouts and the dads chaperoning them over the course of a week at Pinewood Forest Camp in the summer of
1995. Merit badges are earned by some and not by others; rules are broken and fights broken up; drugs taken and stolen; classic songs about gopher guts are sung and ghost stories shared.
Applying the same level of merciless scrutiny used by Anton Chekhov, Dawson rips away the naive Norman Rockwell facade of one of the few rites of passage left to young American males, and replaces it with something complex and uncomfortable. By the end of the week, the story finishes by exemplifying a closing remark from the end of Chekhov’s short story “The Two Volodyas:” “And after that life went on as before, uninteresting, miserable, and sometimes even agonizing.”
Dawson, 2010 recipient of the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Online Comic, proves himself to be a masterful storyteller by relating the scouts’ petty conflicts in a way that recreates for the reader the
artificial sense of importance lent by youth and inexperience. He pairs this alongside one father’s nagging discomfort with the hypocrisy between the institutional morality preached by the scouts
and the behaviors he witnesses. The effect is unsettling. Art-wise, Dawson’s drawings are reminiscent of American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, creator of the graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family
Tragicomic, and Belgian cartoonist Georges Rémi (a.k.a. Hergé), creator of Les Aventures de Tintin. Rémi’s influence is seen most clearly in the shading of each character’s face under the eyes. And the troop leader’s mustache is so evocative of Captian Archibald Haddock, Tintin’s best friend, that it would be easy to think him a homage were their personalities not so diametrically opposed.
The similarity to Bechdel pertains to both her and Dawson’s careful attention to posture and body language as storytelling tools. Dawson, however, operates with a greater freedom in terms of panels and pages, giving the environment and chronology a stronger influence on the characters and reader.
Like Ben Snakepit’s 2004 autobigraphical Snakepit and other postmodern graphic novels, Troop 142 subverts plot and narrative threads to create a visceral read. It is a challenging work geared to indy-comic fans. And, much like the Boy Scouts of America, as portrayed by Dawson and experienced by his characters, this graphic novel will sharply divide its readers in terms of personal taste but not quality.
- Joseph Thompson, ForeWord Reviews
Troop 142 is Mike Dawson’s follow-up to his Freddie and Me autobio piece on Queen. The boy scout motto may say “Be prepared” but nothing could prepare you for the humorous but sometimes harrowing experiences of one week at this scout summer camp in Eatontown, New Jersey in 1995. Forget any notion of what a scout is supposed to be: “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” The fact that the many of these pubescent boys’ fathers are among those trying to maintain order if anything only makes matters more tense and complicated. As one junior scout comments: “‘There’s something odd-looking about grown men wearing these uniforms.” Over one long week, children and adults alike frequently find it hard to cope to these “rites of passage”, from mischievous tricks, practical jokes and rituals like the Golden Dildo and Grunge Sponge Award to bullying, victimisation, homophobia and worse. Our main narrator is bespectacled, white-collar dad Alan Levine, whose sons Jason and David talked him into coming up to camp. From the outset, Alan feels distinctly uncomfortable with silences in conversations, and with the blue-collar guys like Bill and Charlie who run the summer camp and bluster, “We’re all men of the world.” It starts off bad enough for Alan’s younger boy David, whose punished for lying by being assigned latrine duty all week: “My brother was right… this is like being in ‘Kiddie Army’”. From there, Dawson charts how things go from bad to worse, day by day, from Sunday to Saturday. He drops in full-page intense establishing panels, detailed with textures and nature, like a Tezuka manga shot, to really make you feel you are there. His Sacco-like floating narrative captions, slanted askew, add to feelings of reportage and chaos. Often funny, occasionally painful or poignant, Troop 142 shows how males of whatever age “develop” differently, some more worldly and extroverted than others, and how they deal with the pressures of masculinity and conformity. For some readers this 272-page graphic novel may bring back fond childhood memories of summertime larks; others maybe prefer to forget or sigh in relief that they luckily escaped this purgatory. So much for “Boys will be boys.”
- Paul Gravett
Troop 142 is a prime example of how reading an online comic versus a collected edition can be quite a different experience. I originally read Mike Dawson’s latest book in a serialized fashion, checking out the latest uploads to his website every time they trickled out. And read in that fashion, I enjoyed the book a great deal. It was fun, that sort of story about young men at camp that instantly feels real. But reading again a year later, all in one sitting? There’s a much stronger emotional heft to the story that I think is slightly lost in serialized format. Now that I’ve read it in both formats, I feel like the collected edition is the way to go…
…One of the things that I love about Troop 142 is how well Dawson captures the casual cruelty of children. There’s a point on the second day where, after several of the of the scouts are openly mocking Chuck, a scout from another troop asks, “Why do you guys hate him so much?” And rather than stop and think, “Maybe we should stop teasing him,” the response is, “I dunno… I guess we just do!” Reading this moment brought back similar moments of taunting from my one year at Boy Scout Camp. I have a sinking feeling that everyone who’s gone to camp, regardless of the specific location or theme, is in the same boat.
The story is split up largely into vignettes, ranging from a lifesaving merit badge class to wondering how accurate some of their camping truly is. With a large overall cast it means that everyone gets their moment to shine (or fail, as the case may be) and while there are times when the numbers of kids felt a little daunting, when read over a shorter period of time I found that their personalities gelled much better for me. As a result it let me focus more on the dance of social pecking order that exists within the troop, which is both sad and grim. Watching each of the kids trying to not be the low boy on the totem pole results in a mad scramble where friends are tossed to the sidelines in favor of a brief step upward. It’s the sort of thing that happens in all walks of life, not just Boy Scout Camp, but it’s sad to see them all learning those skills at such an early time in their lives…
…Troop 142 reminded me, ultimately, of my one year at Boy Scout Camp, and for that matter my one year as a Boy Scout. I’d enjoyed my three years of Cub Scouts, but going to camp was ultimately the beginning of my understanding that the Scouts (and especially my troop) wasn’t the right place for me. Dawson captures so many of the same elements of young men being together for a week with no outside distractions that it feels a bit eerie, and I suspect I’m not the only one in that boat. Troop 142 is simultaneously distressing and enlightening, and it’s Dawson’s strongest work to date. If you’ve never been to camp before, this is a great way to see exactly what you’ve been missing. I’ll leave it up to you as the reader to decide if missing that particular experience was a good or a bad thing.
- Greg McElhatton, Read About Comics
I think there are a lot of interpretations to Troop 142, an original graphic novel concerning Boy Scouts and adult chaperones up at a summer camp. It’s a credit to the creator, Mike Dawson, that the book is so rich with genuine-feeling human interaction and characterization that it merits discussion as literature rather than pop entertainment.
On the surface, this is a fun story of awkward relations between a bunch of scouts aged between about 14 and 18 years old, and the few adults. It’s a fine tale with plenty of good humor, some scout-specific and some fairly universal teenage boy, with plenty of cringe-worthy moments to boot. The cartooning does its job; it is descriptive and expressive and very consistent. The characters are instantly identifiable and their individual looks in some cases seem to cut to the depths of their character. Or even mask it, in the case of Mr. Demaria (perhaps that’s just my anti-moustache bias talking).
I think the book is ultimately a more ambitious endeavor than one might expect from the subject matter and Dawson’s amiable cartooning style, but it’s an ambition the book lives up to.
As much as the character interactions are entertaining—seeing juveniles away from home behave like juveniles away from home is amusing—there’s more to it, a real core of human experience. It’s a little bit about attempting things and failing them. It’s as much about the shortcomings of the chaperones as it is about the growth of the kids, or lack thereof in some cases. But I think it’s ultimately about recognizing the gap between reality and your expectations of other people, and how one negotiates that gap. The Boy Scout leadership seems to hide behind bright-seeming principles, but sometimes these are shields for clear bigotry, or at the very least hypocrisy.
The rules the kids make and subject each other to are somewhat more arbitrary, and certainly less obfuscating, but often equally cruel. And yet this is a world where everyone can seemingly fend for
themselves, in one fashion or another. With bits like fathers protecting or upsetting their sons and the cruelty of children to each other, it’s even wrenching in parts.
And plus there are lots of dick jokes. We have a winner.
- Jeremy Nisen, Under the Radar
There are two distinct voices at work in Troop 142—Mike Dawson’s latest graphic novel about, of all things, a Boy Scout camp. There is the authorial voice of Alan, father of two of the scouts, and awkward chaperone of the camp. For him, the experience is uncomfortable, seemingly casting him back to his own adolescence and much of his narration deals with his social insecurity. His is a view of the
Scouts through cynical, questioning eyes (even though his actual eyes are often obscured, Sacco-like, by his glasses) and whether the positive experiences offered at the camp are worth the frequent moral
lectures and religious bullying.
Then, of course, there are the boys themselves. Through Alan’s eyes, the boys are good-natured teens cast into the outdoors, but when the focus shifts to let us see the boys in their own world, away from adult eyes, a more multi-faceted and altogether less naïve picture of adolescence is revealed. From experimenting with drugs, to dealing with their own insecurities and burgeoning sexuality, it’s a familiar milieu that we can all relate to…
…More than just being skilled with his writing, Dawson also has tremendous artistic chops to support it. Even though his characters’ faces are very simplistic — with sparingly used lines and mere dots for eyes — he manages to extract a wealth of nuanced emotions from them. Moreover, though, is he a master of grey tone. The whole book uses one shade of grey to offset the black and white, but it is used to spectacular effect. The scenes around the campfire are particularly moody and bring real depth to the page in a way that’s elegant and unobtrusive.
Indeed, those qualities — elegant, unobtrusive — could be applied to Dawson’s work in general. He’s never flashy or overly didactic with his purpose, but through fun and entertaining storylines, he lets us quietly reflect on some very big ideas. Even if you were never a scout (or a boy) there’s still a lot to ponder in Troop 142.
- Gavin Lees, Graphic Eye
Comics, for the most part, are a fairly escapist medium. We buy them to see caped gods fly about and right injustices. We buy them to see these heroes tackle problems that are so larger than life, you sometimes can’t help but feel rather disconnected from the whole affair.
But then you find comics and graphic novels that don’t paint a fantasy world of impossibility. Stories that hold a mirror up to the reader, and instead of giving them an outlet of escape, asks them to look within at our own humanity and weakness. Mike Dawson’s Troop 142 is one such comic…
…This is probably the most difficult review I’ve had to write to date, largely because I myself was a Boy Scout. Someone who wasn’t a part of that organization might read this book and be able to see it as just another story, just another “coming of age” comic. But myself, I read Troop 142, and I see myself on every page. Because of that, it’s hard for me to treat this like any other comic. I could FEEL all the frustration and awkwardness at the changes going on in myself and those around me while reading this book. But Troop 142 also brought back the fond feelings of bonding and brotherhood that I found in my own Troop.
Dawson brings up a number of issues concerning Scouting that are quite prevalent in the world today; Allowing gays into the organization, and the importance of religion in the very foundation of Scouting are two of the big ones. Dawson does an excellent job of bringing these topics to the reader, but allowing them to form their own opinions on the matter. These are also things that only the adults and Scoutmasters talk about, effectively showing that these are clearly not the issues for Scouts busy with exploring their own youth…
…Overall, Mike Dawson’s Troop 142 is an absolute must have on your shelf full of comic books. While it certainly has the ability to make us relive some our more unwanted memories of youth, it also fills us with a warm nostalgia over the friendships we had back then. And whether you were a Boy Scout (or still are, as many say) or not, Troop 142 will still make you have a good ponder about morality, religion, cleanliness, and all the other points of the Scout Law. “Be prepared” is the Scout Motto. So be prepared to enjoy Troop 142.
- Starving for Ink
Mike Dawson has two chief virtues as a writer: writing dialogue with an almost painful level of verisimilitude, and an understanding of the dynamics of teenagers that manages to emphasize the Darwinian nature of their relationships along with the naivete’ of youth. The first two issues of his latest project, Troop 142, put the viciousness of the interplay between teenage boys in the context of a Boy Scout outing. One thing that Dawson hammers home in these comics is the tension between the ideals of being a Boy Scout and the reality of being a teen… The comic raises interesting questions regarding the idealism of Scout law and the realities of being a teenager in 1995 (the setting of the story). Joining the Scouts implies a certain kind of adherence to ideals, but what Dawson raises is that sometimes this may be more the ideals of the parent rather than the boy. And even among the parents, the Scout ideals fall by the wayside when it comes time to wield authority.
- The Comics Journal
There was a wonderful moment — for me — in the fourth issue of Mike Dawson’s Troop 142 comic book when a fat kid scrapes his chest on a wooden pier while falling back into the water from which he was trying to extricate himself. This specific instance is something that happened to me several times, but as tends to the case with the best moments of recognition in fiction this was not something I recalled until I saw Dawson’s comic… Dawson’s comics tend to mine humor out of putting on display in the full flower of their stupidity the grand plans of unambitious dopes.
- The Comics Reporter
This is one well-documented story. And deservedly so. I have to admit, I never bothered to think very much about what might happen at Boy Scout camp, but there’s something so true and right about the way the boys do and don’t get along in this book. I love the additional level of the adult scoutmaster (or whatever you call them) discussion and the interior dialogue of the lefty, non-joiner-type, middle-class dad (i.e. the guy more like me). It makes what could be a compelling YA book and makes it into much more than that. I’m not sure if it also makes it a book kids won’t or shouldn’t read—I’d love to hear from teachers on that one.
- Jessica Abel, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures
CBR’s Top 100 Comics of 2010:
57. Troop 142
In this overlooked gem of a web comic, Freddie & Me creator Mike Dawson manages to both accurately detail what life is like at a week-long Boy Scout summer camp and then open that experience up to a wide audience. Over seven chapters, the lives of both scouts and leaders in the titular troop unfold full of embarrassing swim buddy moments, the formation of cruel and kind social relationships and debates that unite outsiders as much as they divide them.
- Comic Book Resources
Memories and melodies are mixed and illustrated in Mike Dawson’s graphic memoir, which chronicles his lifelong obsession with the band Queen and offers a charming and ultimately insightful look at the way our interests shape our lives.
Beginning with his childhood in the U.K. and his rapturous infatuation with Queen on the telly, Dawson brings readers along for his family’s relocation to the United States, his first crush, his career and beyond. Throughout it all, the members of Queen and other musical influences slide surreally in and out of the frames.
There’s a wistful air of self-deprecation in Dawson’s writing and illustration, as well as a killer backbeat.
“The flourishes of minstrelly doo-wop, the wry formal mastery, the preposterous superfluity of invention… That was always the thing about Queen — they were a luxury.” I quite agree. But for Mike Dawson, who was born in Scotland but grew up in New Jersey, Queen was a necessity: the soundtrack to his coming-of-age. The band’s preposterous superfluity of invention allowed the adolescent Dawson to locate in their lyrics and music themes and emotions that enabled him to make sense of his life’s most important and confusing moments.
- The Boston Globe
A fan of Queen since childhood, Dawson re-creates his hyperdramatic adolescent obsession with the band and its lead singer, Freddie Mercury, and in so doing affirms the many ways that music can affect our lives.
- Library Journal
Time starts and stops quite a bit and the episodes Dawson chooses to focus on from his life are neither earth-shatteringly stupendous or terrible. Yet this stability is also one of the book’s greatest strengths as it is what renders it so instantly identifiable for readers. In this age, perhaps it is rewarding enough simply to read a tale of adolescence that, while heavy on angst and rock, is not marred by substance abuse, family dysfunction, or some other anomalous trauma. At its heart, Freddie and Me is always highly relatable… Freddie and Me remains likeable from start until conclusion. In surprisingly subtle ways it intimates the author’s growth and transformation. One can only hope that it will catch Brian May’s notice and enable Mike Dawson to realize his hinted at silver medal consolation wish.
Dawson’s cartoony flourishes, such as a nose so pointy on one kid that it looks like a long letter “v” protruding from his face, are a visual highlight of the book. Some kids have a certain lumpiness to them, while others have pronounced facial features, such as impossibly bushy eyebrows. “Blue collar” Bill has a big forehead (with a slight Cro-Magnon bulge) and a Dan DeCarlo-esque nose. The cartoony nature of Dawson’s line is what allows him to quickly differentiate the large cast of characters: a looped chin here, an exaggerated set of eyebrows there, and lots of unkempt hair. Dawson uses a thin line and a minimum of shading, hatching, and extensively spotted blacks. Visually, the key to this comic’s success is his ability to convey body language, gesture and character interaction, especially since subtext is such an important part of what’s occurring in the narrative.
Dawson edited out some of the more overt political discussion from the earlier webcomics, stuff that made a debate about Scouts not allowing atheists and Bill condemning Bill Clinton seem artificial, stilted, and didactic. Creating greater ambiguity in his characters while putting the focus on character interaction was a smart way to go, rather than work out a culture-wars debate that may have been in the author’s head by way of his characters. The result is a comic that’s not about the monstrous nature of adolescence or even the less pleasant truths about masculinity in particular, but rather one that focuses on the fragility of ego, the demands of social and cultural mores, and the ways in which we all fear humiliation and vulnerability.
- Rob Clough, the Comics Journal
This book is all about a week of summer camp for this troop in 1995. A lot of people are probably going to call this a “coming of age” story, but I think that’s a lazy way to look at it, as most of the characters in here don’t come to any serious realizations at the end of the week or change in any significant way. What this book does do perfectly is capture that moment in time, that late adolescent awkwardness where things are starting to change for some people in your age group, but the changes come at a different pace for different people. In this summer camp we get examples of bullying (that mostly (but not always) stay below causing the victim any actual harm), taking LSD and sitting around a campfire, unconscious homosexual experimenting, communal showers (and a communal toilet), living in a tent for a week, and some of the classes needed for Boy Scout badges. But the main thing on display here is the conversations between these kids, and they’re scary accurate from my memories of the time. A lot of adults try to protect the youngsters from foul language and anything untoward, which naturally leads to kids saying the most vile curse words that they hear whenever they get the chance. There’s also a smaller plot in here about a camp counselor (who’s there with his two sons) and the troubles he has fitting in. What’s the etiquette for sleeping in a tent with another man? What are the exact rules for maintaining discipline while not going over the line, especially when it’s your kids that are getting picked on? There are countless quiet (or loud) moments of conversation in here that I’ll let you discover for yourself, but I’d have to think this book would really hit home with people who went through this process themselves.
- Kevin Bramer, Optical Sloth