From the stack: 1,000 Steps to World Domination

April 4, 2005

It seems almost disrespectful to say that an illustrated treatise on world conquest is really, really charming. But I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed that Rob Osborne doesn’t take offense (just in case his plans come to fruition). Because his 1,000 Steps to World Domination (AiT/Planet Lar) is an awful lot of fun.

He’s created a manifesto for world conquest through cartooning, you see. While his precise methodology is left unclear, he seems pretty sincere about it. With that driving philosophy in place, Osborne’s mind is free to essentially wander where it will, with occasional intrusions from the real world.

Osborne does a very nice job mixing the mundane and the absurd. 1,000 Steps is almost a stream of consciousness, as Osborne’s mind wanders from the drawing board to timeless parables to his three dogs to rectal probes to… well, to wherever. It’s like a tribute to the creative power of distraction.

At this point, I’m going to have to get entirely subjective (as opposed to almost entirely subjective like usual), because the book seems to lend itself to a number of different interpretations. As I see it, Osborne is riffing on the value of riffing, essentially. What might seem like a distraction from the actual act of cartooning – composing the manifesto – ends up being a rich source of inspiration for his work.

To be honest, I’m not usually crazy about artists (from any genre, not just comics) talking about the creative process. It can be awfully self-indulgent. That’s not the case here, as Osborne leavens his sincere passion for cartooning with more than enough self-effacing absurdity to keep things from becoming pretentious. At the same time, he doesn’t poke himself so relentlessly as to appear pitiful. There’s a nice mix of little victories and setbacks to keep him relatable and the reader engaged.

Osborne’s portrayal of Sarah is a particularly good example of the humanity in evidence, and should probably win some kind of award for “best portrayal of a cartoonist’s life partner.” She’s supportive but appropriately skeptical, and she doesn’t lapse into that faintly creepy, mommy-ish indulgence that can color such portrayals. She genuinely engages Rob about his work, but she still wants him to take out the trash. The relationship adds some lovely, gentle grace notes to the piece.

There are plenty of very funny moments in the book, and I could drone on about them at some length. But a big part of the pleasure of 1,000 Steps is in the surprise. Osborne keeps mixing things up, overlapping and interspersing content and tone. Then, just as you think you’re getting into the unconventional rhythm, he’ll offer up a more focused segment, like “The War of Art.” There’s a nice variety of pace, and the more reflective moments are welcome little breathers.

I don’t know if Rob Osborne will ever take over the world through comics, but 1,000 Steps makes me feel like worse things could happen. As Sarah says, “It seems that if there were a nice way to take over the world, this is it.”