Broken Lines Reviews

Pappalardo’s playful illustrated novel (after One More Cup of Coffee) tells a bizarre and frenetic story of pyromaniac demons dressed as firemen and a group of avenging heroes. Maggie, a waitress, asks for a ride home from work when her car won’t start, and she’s obliged by two characters named Cowboy and Spaceman. After she arrives home, the demons (ominously depicted in drawings with captions such as “WE’RE HERE TO BURN AND KILL”) set fire to her trailer park. Cowboy and Spaceman rescue Maggie, drawing her into a fundamental fight of good against evil. They travel in a rented moving van on a hellish road trip as the demons pursue with orders from their “Chief.” Sometimes the humor is just silly, but it can also be laugh-out-loud funny. The characters are well defined, and postmodern commentary bubbles to the surface. (Cowboy, during a pit stop at Pump ‘N’ Zoom, says to a kid enthralled by their quest: “Life ain’t a comic book and this ain’t an adventure!”) Lurid mixed media illustrations and satirical collages reminiscent of Adbusters add to the charm (an ad for Pump ‘N’ Zoom shows a customer gleefully putting a nozzle to their head like a gun). This author is bound to find an audience that has been waiting just for him. – Publishers Weekly

An archive of full Broken Lines reviews.

Broken Lines Is a Rollicking, Careening Adventure Unlike Any Other

With a bizarre plot, metafiction that breaks the fourth wall, and lots of visual candy, Tom Pappalardo’s Broken Lines is entertainingly unique. Pappalardo has written stories, essays, and comic strips and worked in graphic design, all skills that come to bear in Broken Lines. The plot revolves around a waitress, Maggie, and several strange characters whom she meets: a cowboy, a spaceman, and a frail, aged vampire. The four band together with a loose goal of getting the vampire to a distant town, while avoiding the firemen—agents of evil who start fires, not put them out. The plot could be considered secondary, however, to its delivery. Pappalardo breaks up passages of prose with illustrations, including photo-realistic drawings, photographs, fake ads, footnotes, quotations, and a massive number of different fonts in various sizes. It might sound like a bit much, but somehow it all works.
At one point, the somewhat ignorant Spaceman acquires a dog named Banjo, and their first interaction gives a sense of the character’s innocence, as well as Pappalardo’s ability to sharply convey humor:
“Who’s the dog?” Spaceman asks the only dog in the room. “You!” he confirms. “You’re the dog!”
Perhaps the most delightful section of the book stems from Pappalardo’s struggles to finish the project. When the author imposes himself on the characters in a food court, he recounts the creation of the story thus far: “I scribble notes for this scene on my porch in March, 2003 … Now it’s half past 2017. Fourteen years compressed into two heavily-revised paragraphs.” A few pages later, after informing his characters that they are, in fact, fictional, Pappalardo describes Cowboy’s reaction as “a dark and serious look, the dead-eyed stare of a Richard Scarry cat piloting a tugboat.” Such references are fresh, if esoterically resonant.
Broken Lines is most likely to appeal to Pappalardo’s own demographic—men in their forties who are familiar with pop culture and ready to poke some fun at it—but all will appreciate that Pappalardo has created a world, and a book, unlike any other.
– Peter Dabbene, Foreword Reviews

“It’s wild, funny and engaging; freely intermingling sci-fi, comedy and a good chase.”
– reader G.M.

I was skeptical of Broken Lines throughout the beginning, and, though I ultimately enjoyed the book, not all of that skepticism had gone by the end. Broken Lines is, in the book’s own terms, an “illustrated novel.” Author Tom Pappalardo’s interpretation of the idea explores the line between purely textual and graphic novels. While that offers a plethora of intriguing options, Pappalardo’s book only takes partial advantage. Some of the book’s use of arrows, boxes of relevant (or not) factual information, and stylized photos works quite well. Others times, the additions feel pretty unnecessary. After the amusing novelty wore off, I increasingly questioned whether the irreverent bits and bobs really added anything substantial to the experience of the story.

The story itself is something like a Douglas Adams-inspired roadtrip in which a handful of eclectic characters in a moving van flee demon fire-starting firefighters (haha, yeah, irony). Though some of the “unexpected” plot and character choices feel a bit twee–like the author was trying slightly too hard to be kooky–by the end, I ultimately found the book fun and endearing enough. Broken Lines plays at the boundaries of the novel in form as well as content, but it doesn’t always succeed in its ambitions. Yet enough of the story’s features are amusing and irreverent to warrant a read.

– Danielle McManus, Tulsa Book Review

Interview on WRSI

“If I had a better imagination, I’d be able to put everything I wanted in a book and it would be like this.”
– Monte Belmonte, 93.9 The River

“Well. I certainly found myself laughing long and hard at some of the trials faced by our ragtag quartet of protagonists. Let it be said they all had guts in the face of some scary-ass axe-wielding antagonists. The author did nothing to allay my fears of gas masks; thanks a lot.” Goodreads review

“…engaging characters, story that keeps moving, great artwork, wanton violations of the fourth wall…” – Amazon Review

PROS: An engaging, gonzo novel with classic illustration elements and a large dose of silliness.
CONS: Sometimes the level of insanity gets annoying and you need to take a break.

Broken Lines is an illustrated novel by Tom Pappalardo. It is short for a novel, and peppered with illustrations, photo-manipulations, pop-culture references, and the occasional marginalia. Unlike regular novels, it also makes heavy use of white space and those illustrations to play into the pace of the novel and how it reads. They aren’t just things added on to look cool; they impact how the book is read and are part of the story, taking cue from Pappalardo’s graphic design background. It reads like the hipster bastard child of Burroughs’s Naked Lunch and B-list horror, if you took that hypothetical literary child, and then fed it several pounds of sugar and a few carafes of coffee.

The tale concerns the travels of a spaceman and cowboy, and the waitress they rescue from her burning trailer as they hunt down demons and try to return a non-sparkly old man of a vampire to his home. If you expect a serious adventure, you’re reading the wrong book. This is a bubbly, snarky adventure in the land of the absurd. It’s a pleasant read and a good escape, if you need a breather from the land of stories of dark dystopias or gritty heroes.

The references the book makes should be familiar to most of you internet denizens; though some of the graphic design elements may seem a bit esoteric, taking hints from everything from vintage advertisements, text-based computer games like ZORK, and early comic book art. They add to the story, but if you don’t get every reference it doesn’t matter: the book will still be enjoyable and fun.

If you enjoy gonzo and light adventures into the land of the strange, this is the book for you.

Jessica Wagar, Bleeding Cool (2017)

“Out of the thousands of books I’ve read in my life, this is the only time I’ve ever laughed out loud while reading the introductory pages.” Goodreads review

“I’m not even sure how to categorize this book, which is a common feature of most of my favorite books. It’d be a disservice to just label it humor, though it’s very funny. Adventure doesn’t quite cut it either, though it’s full on road movie of an adventure. It’s lively, thoughtful and fun.” – Amazon Review

Older Reviews

An occasionally unflattering archive of reviews for the earlier graphic novel incarnation of Broken Lines (2007-2011ish).

Even if the comic in question weren’t worth reading (and it is), Tom Pappalardo’s Broken Lines is worth your examination because man! Look at the design of that page and those books. I couldn’t possibly tell you why, but the design visuals just hooked themselves into my brain and are making me say Preeeetty.

Possibility: the typography is similar to a lot that I saw at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, which is like the Louvre for type geeks. I spent a happy afternoon there drooling over Claude Garamond’s original punches and matricies, whose proportions and aesthetics I find reflected in the pages of Broken Lines. Plus, the comic itself has a cowboy and an astronaut on a roadtrip to adventure!

Gary Tyrrell, Fleen (2010)

[A review of Chapters Five and Six] The adventures of Cowboy, Spaceman, Vampire and Maggie the Waitress continue as Tom Pappalardo moves his wickedly insane illustrated novel closer to the finish line. But this time out, their strange adventures take a backseat to a new character introduced into the mix: a demon named Sticky Buns.

BROKEN LINES is the story of a young waitress named Maggie who winds up fleeing on a cross-country road trip in the company of her three odd companions after the demons and vampire hunters chasing the trio burn down her home and tries to kill her. As these chapters pick up, Spaceman has crashed his robotic suit at the bottom of a lake, Cowboy has been sent to a lower level of Hell, and Maggie and the Vampire have fled in the hopes of staying ahead of the creature’s pursuers. Each has their own plot while separated, but it’s Cowboy’s that takes center stage and captivates. He first battles, then allies himself with, a large demon named Sticky Buns. That demon’s awesome power? He can make things adhere to his ass. In fact, his ass cheeks can act independently and snatch items from the air, people’s hands, you name it. He literally has… well, you know.

This Tom Pappalardo fellow? Either a genius, or a candidate to wind up on some sort of neighborhood “registry.”

The whole book is one cheerily absurd moment after another, and BROKEN LINES remains one of those little treasures that not enough people know about, but I suspect someday will. Find out for yourself why.

– Marc Mason (Comics Waiting Room)

“(a) gonzo mix of story and art, both confusing and oddly effective” – Bookslut (2007)

Pappalardo’s illustrated prose novel returns with a new chapter, and fortunately it was worth the wait. BROKEN LINES is shaping up to be a classic oddity, full of strangeness and lunacy; hopefully he’ll be able to get it in front of enough eyes so that it gets the recognition I’ve begun to believe it deserves.

The basic plot sounds a bit like the setup for a classic joke: a cowboy, a spaceman, and a vampire go on a road trip… picking up a waitress along the way. But there’s a bit more to it than that. The group is pursued by a nasty group of demons called “firemen” (because they chop up people with axes and set things on fire), a trio of British vampire hunters, and now a third group of players with a mad-on for one of the group. But perhaps the most dangerous thing of all? American consumerism, as the waitress must navigate a shopping mall, her strange attraction to a retail salesman, and the d-bag trying to sell mobile phones from one of those kiosks we all hate so much.

You have to give the author credit for a number of things he tries with this book and manages to get away with. He breaks the fourth wall without being too annoying about it. He writes BROKEN LINES in present tense, which is almost impossible to do well. He does a solid job of adding in the illustrations and working them into coherent, mixed pages. And after about 120 pages, you still don’t really have an idea exactly what the hell is going on or what the ultimate goal for the characters truly is (beyond “take the vampire home”). But somehow, all of this (mostly) works and tickles the funny bone.

Maybe my favorite moment in this chapter comes late in the proceedings as Pappalardo takes a moment to explain the “atmosphere” to his readership, layer by layer. When he finally gets to the top, outer space, he describes it as thus: “Fuckin’ wormholes and shit.”

Not exactly NASA, but executed with panache. Good stuff.

– Marc Mason, Comics Waiting Room

I have nothing clever to say about this book that the book does not say for itself. Seek it out. You will not be disappointed.

Tom Pappalardo and a slew of artists working in conjunction with Standard Design have created what is quite simply a masterpiece. In the first of what is tellingly called Book One of Four, Maybe, Pappalardo introduces his readers to Cowboy, Spaceman, Vampire, Maggie, and Myron, five almost archetypal heroes whose adventure dances the edges of reality like Fred Astaire on crack. But fair warning, this is NOT a comic book. It is the first in a series of four illustrated novellas that will leave you literally salivating for more.

I first saw Pappalardo’s work a few months back when I reviewed the surreal and entertaining Famous Fighters. In that comic Pappalardo, along with his intrepid collaborator, Matt Smith, introduced readers to Cowboy as well as a slew of other characters loosely connected by a twisted definition of heroism that simultaneously parodied and paid homage to some great comic book, fantasy, and sci-fi motifs. It was a funny, entertaining, and excellent little independent comic. But compared to Broken Lines it was weak.

With clever dialogue, present tense, conversational narration, and asides that will make you laugh out loud if you are, say . . . sitting in the dentist’s office waiting room quietly leafing through your copy, Broken Lines offers something few novellas do these days. It is intelligent, entertaining, and in a word, freaking awesome.

The story begins when a waitress, Maggie, meets two strange customers on a cold winter’s day in a Colorado diner. One is a stoic cowboy called Cowboy, the other is a childlike spaceman called Spaceman. Their personalities mix as if they are our culture’s answer to Oscar and Felix—and if you don’t know who they are, go to the theatre—they bounce off each other and balance each other out with a comedic flair that makes their story hard to put down. Later Firemen (not firefighters, firemen—demons whose job is to kill and destroy) burn down Maggie’s trailer park and because Cowboy “had a feeling” something bad would happen, Maggie is saved and swooped away on a twisted adventure involving a rehabilitating vampire, demons who talk like stoners, vampire hunters who are far less noble than one would think their career choice indicates, and a hapless nerd and his dog working at a gas station in the middle of nowhere.

These clever words are balanced by the art. As mentioned above, this book is NOT a comic book, graphic novel, collected volume or anything like that. Rather, it is an illustrated novella. With periodic panel-to-panel art done by Pappalardo and various other independent and amazing artists, this book fires ahead where others would bog you down. There is a mixture of illustration, Photoshoppery, and collage filling the pages between the prose and continuing the story along with a finesse that belies and benefits the oddity of the actual tale being told.

And what an odd tale it is; odd, fun, well written and with likable, intriguing characters, a plot that never stops, intersections of panel-to-panel art, and a quote from William Blake for the cherry. Do yourself a favor and buy this book, seek out future issues, and become a fan. You will NOT be sorry.

– Aaron Stueve, Broken Frontier

I’m not sure what I expected when I began to read Broken Lines: Book One of Four, Maybe but it surpassed whatever thought I might have had. It is so unlike everything else that I have ever read that I hate to make any sort of comparisons.

Cowboy, Spaceman, Vampire, and a waitress by the name of Maggie are the good guys. You know the kind of good guys I’m talking about right? Yep, the kind that fight evil. When firemen show up at the trailer park Maggie is living in and start to set fire to things, she can’t imagine why. She asks the two who show up on her doorstep and they are kind enough to fill her in:
‘Oh, no, ma’am. You’re confusing us with firefighters,’ the second fireman explains through the door, “They put out fires and save people.”
‘They’re America’s Heroes,’ the first fireman chimes in.
‘Yeah. We’re firemen. We’re basically evil. We’re here to burn and kill.
But since we know, well at least we guessed, that Maggie is one of our heroes, this can’t be the end of her. That is when Cowboy and Spaceman show up. With the help of Vampire they rescue the lady in distress and hightail it out of there.

What follows is a slightly peculiar journey to… well, we aren’t exactly sure. They travel around in a rental van, which, by the way, is more than it appears, with Vampire hanging out in the back. Where they are from and who they are – those are questions that are never really answered. They simply are. Believe me, it is more than enough.

Coffee imbibing and all-night stints stocking-up at a grocery store also figure in Broken Lines, adding to its unique quality. There are some illustrations, a few traditional comic book boxes, but for the most part it is comprised of words – very funny words I might add. The characters are simply brilliant and the dialog is smart and entertaining.

Broken Lines is unusual. It starts out with a character washing his hands and ends with someone asking where the microwavable chalupas are. Completely irresistible once you start reading, you will not stop until you have reached the last page. Once there you will immediately start looking for volume two.

– Katie, McNeill – BlogCritics Magazine

The world does not need more superhero comics. It also doesn’t need weird little illustrated novellas halfway between The Poor Man’s Almanac and an old volume of Edgar Allan Poe poems with captioned picture plates. But I’d much rather more of have the latter than the former, which is why I was so pleased to read Tom Pappalardo’s Broken Lines: Book One. It’s the story of a waitress who hooks up with a spaceman and a cowboy to transport a vampire across the country in a rented moving truck. If you’re either confused or irritated by the concept thus far, reading the book in its entirety will alleviate neither condition.

So, it’s a good thing that Pappalardo’s humor strikes such a chord with me. It probably won’t with some people, primarily the type that buys Friends on DVD and goes to Adam Sandler movies on opening day, but those that prefer a more literary type of humor will find something to appreciate in Broken Lines. That’s not to suggest that the book relies on high-brow pretension; quite the opposite is true. While Pappalardo clearly appreciates the finer points in humor specific to the written word, and has steeped Broken Lines in various literary traditions that suggest he’s at least walked by a library or two, the sense of humor is truly absurd, and references to modern culture both high and low pepper the pages. At a hefty 70-plus pages, that’s a lot of pepper.

But what’s most arresting about this independently published book is its design. Not only has Pappalardo apparently read a few books, he’s also paid quite a bit of attention to their layout and design. From the dry edition notes on the back of the title page to the chapter breaks, every element of the book has a unified sense of style, best described as ‘olde thyme’, so detailed it belies the independent nature of the book. The illustrations are varied but consistent, alternating between diagrams, comic pages that bridge gaps in the prose, and illustrations with captions so absurdly chosen (“About halfway through Yojimbo” being my personal favorite) they complement the book’s sense of humor perfectly. The spaceman is cute, the cowboy, who we’ve met before in Pappalardo and Matt Smith’s excellent Famous Fighters, is suitably gruff, and the waitress character is almost as baffled as the reader is. The only real downside to the book is its rather abrupt end, which stops short as if a filmstrip caught fire halfway through the final reel. Broken Lines is ostensibly book one of four, but the build up doesn’t work, because we’re not left teetering on the edge of a cliffhanger, but rather thinking a few pages got left out at the printers. But though the end is confusingly sudden, the reader is still left wanting more, so while the world may not need any more superhero comics, it may need at least one more illustrated novella. – Rating: 9 on 10

– Al Kratina, Comic Book Bin (2007)

Well, this isn’t a comic exactly, and it’s not a short story exactly either. It’s mostly a short story with comical interludes thrown in, but what a story it is. I can’t remember the last time I was this impressed by a story where I had no real idea what’s going on. It starts innocently enough in an all-night diner with a cowboy and a man in a spacesuit eating dinner. Their waitress can’t work up the enthusiasm to be too curious about them, and things proceed slowly for a bit until Maggie ends up having to get a ride home from these two. After they part ways, Maggie meets a group of demons from hell dressed as firemen (firemen make fires and kill people, firefighters are the ones who put them out, you see) before eventually ending up back with Cowboy and Spaceman and their silent friend, Vampire. She joins them on their journey across the country, trying to make enough money to survive along the way, while being chased by… well, we’re not sure what. Nor do we know where they’re going or why they’re going there. None of that matters even a little bit, as an engaging cast of characters (I haven’t even mentioned Myron or the Vampire Hunters because why not leave a few surprises for you?) and a constantly funny dialogue keep things moving even when they’re stuck doing inventory in a grocery store to make a few bucks. Spaceman is possibly a small retarded child judging by his actions, Cowboy is the stereotypical cowboy except with a clumsy streak, and I don’t have the slightest idea what Vampire is yet, except that he seems to have given up drinking blood. What can I say, I was mesmerized and damned sad to see the last page of this book. It’s projected to be the first of four issues, so at least there’s plenty more to go. I can’t recommend this enough for those of you who don’t mind a lot of really wonderful text thrown in with the pretty pictures. Oh, and Thomas did most of the drawing himself, except for a page each by Mister Reusch, Jason Goad and Matt Smith.
Optical Sloth (2007)

A couple of years ago, I reviewed a self-published comic called FAILURE, INCOMPETENCE by Tom Pappalardo [link – tom], and gave it a pretty heavy panning. The biggest problem was that Pappalardo was just not a very accomplished artist as far as comics went. Now, many times when you lay out an indy creator in a review, you’ll never hear from them again; I say that, because I tend to have a healthy respect for those with the stones to come back for more. So I tip my cap to Pappalardo for standing up and taking another swing.

BROKEN LINES, to his credit, is something completely different. It is actually a prose work, with some illustrations spread throughout the book. But while the illustrations come across weakly on the whole (there hasn’t been a lot of artistic growth here), the prose part is absolutely terrific fun. Pappalardo’s true gift kicks into gear when he puts the pencil down and starts typing.

Maggie is a waitress working at a highway diner when her life takes a bizarre turn; one of her morning tables is comprised of a cowboy in full-regalia and a man in a spacesuit. But that isn’t the weirdest part of her day; when she gets home, her home is attacked by demons called “firemen” whose job is to burn property and kill the owners, sending them straight to Hell. Fortunately, Maggie has a chance to survive when the cowboy and spaceman show up to save the day and rescue her… along with the help of their other friend, a vampire.

Swerving between quirky and flat-out strange, BROKEN LINES is a very amusing little tale. It’s completely unpredictable, and not once do you ever feel like you know where it’s headed. That’s a nice feeling to have, and even though you’re only a fourth of the way into the full story, you still walk away from this first part feeling satisfied. The story is also told in the present tense, which is rare these days, making it an even more unique read. Congrats all the way around to Pappalardo on delivering a solidly creative effort.
– Mark Mason, Comics Waiting Room

With Broken Lines, Thomas Pappalardo has created a charming world where Sharpie drawings and text narrate a rag-tag gang’s journey for the good and true, two values that manifest themselves mostly in threats and brawls against the many nefarious groups who wish harm upon Maggie, Cowboy, Spaceman and Vampire. The Illuminated Concern for Fastidious Bloodkeeping (vampire hunters), Firemen (demons from Hell), and the Space Agency (paramilitary agents) are each looking to destroy one or more members of the gang of four. Through these foils, the reader learns that vampires are being poached, arsonists are burning up the American landscape, and sophisticated aeronautical technology has been stolen. These storylines are introduced erratically, which has the cool effect of producing a universe vs. the heroes binary, and the uncool effect of rushing character development.

Pappalardo’s dialogue and narration lean towards caricature too often to sound genuine. In particular, the narrator addresses the audience in the patronizing voice of a pedant; I used to be all for reflexivity in literature, but it’s no longer cheeky, now it’s chumpy. While I enjoy the illustrations and all of Spaceman’s dialogue, I can’t say it’s worth the asking price.
– Megan Polley, Broken Pencil