Joe Odd just didn’t fit in.
Joe Odd isn’t a real person. He’s the main character in a popular cult cartoon who is a lot like someone we’ve all known at one time or another: that odd person who shuns social norms and exists outside mainstream society.
The cartoon was created by Nicolas C. Grey, an ex-pat Brit who has called Phnom Penh home for the past three years. Grey’s drawings of the Joe Odd cartoon are currently on display at the Java Cafe and Gallery.
In The Beginning
The roots of Joe’s story reach back nearly three decades to a secure psychiatric institution in Devon, England.
“It was a story that I was given by someone on a small scrap of paper that had been found in a mental hospital,” Grey explains as he sips on a glass of water in the gallery where his 10 drawings from the cartoon are on display.
The fate of the story’s original author — known only by his signature, BB83 — remains unknown. The mysterious origin, coupled with the tale’s own darkly disturbing storyline, provoke an immediacy that has captivated viewers from the very beginning.
“Since I first drew it 20 years ago it has taken on a life of its own,” Grey says.
The story begins with Joe living peacefully along with his dog in a hut on the side of a hill.
Joe’s existence contrasts sharply to the lives of the masses who live in apartments, or “boxes,” in the city nearby.
The box people question Joe’s way of life. They insist that Joe should live like them.
But Joe likes his quiet hut. He does not want to live in a box.
That makes the box people angry. They break Joe’s windows and tell bad stories about him. They tear down his hut.
Joe is eventually hauled off to a mental institution, where doctors hang labels around his neck identifying his illness.
The institution wants Joe to live in a box and watch television like everyone else.
Joe eventually gives in to the labeling until one night he hears a voice, which tells him to take off his labels, and then leads Joe to a place where there are lots of odd people like he used to be.
But soon, the box people find him, and they demand Joe return to his box. They come with police cars and ambulances and sirens. Joe runs away from them, along the beach and into the sea to escape the noise.
The final image of the cartoon shows Joe lying dead on a bathroom floor.
“The ambiguity is that it happened in his own mind,” Grey says.
Java Cafe and Gallery owner Dana Langlois is a big fan of Grey’s cartoon.
“I think its brilliant — the whole thing is brilliant,” she says. “It appeals to the very raw part of human nature — something we don’t always acknowledge.”
The future looks bright for the dark cartoon as a group of Swedes are planning to make the cartoon into an animated film.