You want to see artists riding their personal visual vocabulary past the realm of utility and into Idiosyncracy Land. From Kirby crackle and Ditko hands to Jim Woodring’s fungoids and Al Columbia’s erasures, signature tropes are frequently a sign that something not so much practical as alchemical is going on in that artist’s brain when he puts lines on paper. Judging from this splash-making debut book from Joseph Lambert, a collection of work previously published in various anthologies and minicomics, Lambert has several such obsessions: Big grinning suns with devious intentions, fumingly angry and violent little children, and using the perspectivally flattening effect of two-dimensional line art to make people and things interact in unexpected ways — characters grabbing their word balloons to use as weapons, people in the foreground jumping onto objects that in “reality” are miles away or literally in outer space. The problem is that none of these visual tricks say much of anything to me. Watching an angry little kid leap into the air and assault the onlooking sun makes for a clever visual, but not a particularly communicative one. Children’s stories have used this kind of device to convey the naivete of their protagonists, and the matter-of-fact wonders of the world when seen through a child’s eyes; mythology uses it to bring a huge and frightening world down to our level, to grant us a degree of control. For Lambert, I think there’s an exploration of rage and frustration under here someplace, but it’s diluted from overuse. If that many characters are angry enough to threaten the sun, then how angry are any of them, really? It’s as though Lambert held his thumb out and blotted out the sun and thought “Wouldn’t it be neat to draw something that did that literally?” And yes, it’s neat, but after a while it’s not much more than that. Too many of the visuals presented here — word-balloon weapons, dancin’ on the ceiling perspective shifts, characters swallowing other characters whole and unharmed — have that feeling. “Why not?” is a terrific question for an artist to ask himself; “why?” is sometimes a better one.