Rufus Marigold is sort of a melting pot of various sensibilities. Its tone often feels like it's channeling the self-loathing and dread of the 90's alternative comics scene, while it uncomfortably and honestly wallows in the modern anxieties and depressions that readers are far too familiar with in this social media age. Often times the humor is in its sadness and in the various self defeating personality traits of its titular character, sometimes opting to instill a bit of schadenfreude for its payoffs. At other times it just wants to paint a picture of what living with crippling anxiety can be like, and in those moments it becomes more of a snapshot of mental health set against the backdrop of daily corporate drudgery.
Rufus is a commercial artist who struggles to interact with his office mates, doesn't really have any friends, and doesn't really want to deal with people due to the severe emotional distress it brings him. He is, in short, a disaster.
And that's pretty much it. There's no real arc to this character, nor is there really a plot to any of the book. It's just episodic bits highlighting the downs and deeper downs of Rufus' life as he simply attempts to exist. A good day is when he generally hasn't done anything too terrible to sabotage himself, and a bad day is well.....pretty friggin' terrible. Puking on a prostitutes' boots or leaving an injured elderly man in the park to die because he's too nervous to talk to the police are a few memorable highlights.
Murray's clean and subtle linework infuses the work with a ton of charm and you often find the silent moments in the strips carrying the most weight. Rufus' emoting is all the more highlighted as his human-presenting work mates are all flat happy people, resembling the cheery types you would see in office ads or in stiff airplane safety instructions. This elevates our ability to empathize a bit more with Rufus, plus it helps in creating that sense of otherness that ramps up the anxiety and the various feelings of dread and other stressors.
You could say the collection is a little one note, but I feel that that is intentional. As a showcase for mental health struggles and for the never-ending march of coping with anxiety, it captures these elements perfectly as a day to day nightmare. Sure there are little triumphs, and sometimes things are better than they seem. At other times, you might leave a man for dead, or go to jump off a roof only to be intimidated by a seagull. Rufus feels like an ambivalent case study at times instead of a protagonist, giving us less of a person to root for and more of an insight into a struggle.
Rufus Marigold captures an odd balance of absurd sadness and jovial self-deprecation that makes you smile and then feel a little guilty about that smile. I'm not sure if that's a particular experience people may want, especially in our anxiety laden reality of 2021, but I appreciate the brutal honestly of it all.