By Michael Jantze
Includes a gallery of “Norm” inspired art by creators including Sergio Aragones, Jim Borgman, Chris Eliopoulos, Norman Feuti, Paul Gilligan, Rick Kirkman, Kelly McNutt, Joe Murray, Mark Parisi, Lincoln Peirce, Jerry Scott, and many more
Young professionals include more than 50 of the most disgustingly talented and youthful creators Michael considers a privilege to know.
The Book: The Norm is an American comic strip created by cartoonist, animator and teacher Michael Jantze. It ran in newspapers, syndicated by King Features Syndicate, from 1996 until 2004 when Jantze removed the strip from syndication to develop it as an online comic strip and television series.
The Norm 4.0 rebooted in January 2015 and appears every Monday at GoComics. A book collection of the earlier colour Sunday work is in print in English and other books and magazines are available in English, Swedish and Spanish by resellers.
Knocked Out Loaded is a full length Norm graphic novel (plus extras) about fear. After his wife’s miscarriage, Norm doesn’t want to move forward, he’s afraid of anything new. He’s stuck in his life, his relationships, his job. So he runs away from it all for a day of skiing, where he’s knocked out loaded. Literally. Short-term memory loss. So when Norm stumbles back to his life, love and job with no strings attached, man, does it drive everyone nuts!
Knocked Out Loaded is about the fear to grow up, grow strong, grow wise and, ultimately, grow old.
It’s a story Michael originally pitched and sold to DC Comics in 1990 – along with another graphic novel titled Rave On – but when DC went through a rough patch in the early 1990’s, he retreived his rights and they parted ways. KOL sat in a file folder until 2006 when he decided to make it a storyline for his daily strip, “The Norm”.
250 strips into “Knocked Out Loaded”, Michael’s partner was diagnosed with cancer and as part of dealing with that and giving her time to heal (and, thankfully, she is now fully recovered), he took a break from cartooning and took up teaching, eventually deciding to complete the storyline as a graphic novel, and try to reboot “The Norm” comic strip as a weekly comic through a crowdfunding campaign.
Michael Jantze has worked in animation, visual effects, web and new media, journalism, filmmaking, professoring and parenting, but he’s probably Googled most for my comic strip “The Norm”… or that misspelled swimwear company.
The Review: It’s been such a long time since I first encountered “The Norm” and its amazing creator, Michael Jantze, that I’ve quite forgotten how it first happened. Given that “The Norm” – essentially, an Everyman strip with a lot of delightful imaginary weirdness thrown in – has never been syndicated in the UK, it can only have been through discovery online. I suspect it came about when I was curating the first ROK Comics venture into mobile comics back in 2007, and Michael was one of the professional cartoonists who recognised the (sadly unrealised) potential of the platform and gave it a try.
Through that, he also very kindly gave “The Really Heavy Greatcoat”, the humour strip I created with Nick Miller, a slot in one of the early The Norm collections. So when he put out a crowdfunding appeal to complete his full length graphic novel Knocked out and Loaded, I was more than happy to back it.
Of course, that was in 2013. It was a crowdfunding project earned the attention of The Washington Post at the time, but who knew it wouldn’t be until 2018 that the printed edition finally dropped through my letter box? Certainly not Michael (a lot of life has happened in all that time, but for the full story, check out the original crowdfunding page, or follow Jantze Studios on Patreon).
Was it worth the five year wait? Hell, yes.
Knocked out and Loaded is a beautifully-realised story crammed with Americana, part soap, part sitcom, much mental comic strip in the style of “Krazy Kat” or “Calvin and Hobbes” but with its own, unique storytelling. As central character Norm – an often self obsessed but actually acutely observant soul – tries to cope with his partner Reine’s recent miscarriage, his life spirals out of control from one disaster to the next, mostly the result of his own actions. A skiing accident compounds a spiralling descent into craziness as a concussion, but as a reader, you’re never quite sure just where disaster begins and unreality takes over.
All the elements of the original “The Norm” strip that gave it such huge appeal to me when I first encountered the strip are here, from the angry coffee machine and alarm clock that start Norm’s Daily routine, to his interactions with imaginary other selves, Boy Norm and Old Norm. (If you know the strip, you’ll know who they are. If not, well, that doesn’t matter – Knocked out and Loaded is a great standalone read).
While you’d imagine it would be well nigh impossible for a book you’ve waited five years to read to live up to expectations, Knocked out and Loaded succeeds, admirably. Michael Jantze successfully delivers a powerful, funny tale of growing up – or, to be more accurate, acknowledging you’ve grown up, against a background of ever increasing disaster of the train wreck kind. The kind of downward spiral that you really hope isn’t going to get worse, but does, but you can’t pull yourself away from, anxious to see how things pan out.
“The Norm” is a quintessentially American humour strip (I mean that as no criticism of Americans or Americana!) and there are a few elements of it that probably pass me by, but that doesn’t dilute what a great tale Knocked out and Loaded is. With its great script, storytelling and fabulous artwork, backed by a wonderful “extras” section, I’m glad it’s finally been published, ambitions realised, and that new strips are being created.
Yes, it was definitely, very definitely, worth the wait.
• Find The Norm Books on Amazon.co.uk (using this link helps support downthetubes)