Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Family Fun: Tales Designed To Thrizzle #4

Rob revels in the new issue of TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE #4, by Michael Kupperman (Fantagraphics).

Michael Kupperman is probably my favorite humorist working today. He's the master of the non sequitur, riffing on familiar images and concepts and taking them in completely unexpected directions. He's one of the very few cartoonists whose work I seek out in any format it happens to be published in, be it in The Believer or on the internet. Fortunately, Kupperman uses his Fantagraphics title TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE as both a depository for his material first published elsewhere (cleverly repurposed) as well as a ton of new material.

Issue #4's structural conceit is that it's supposed to help your family get through its entire day, and the reader is instructed to start reading it when they wake up, going through a page every half hour. That premise is every bit as goofy as past issues, which had "age restrictions" (children only in the first part, adults in the second and the elderly for the last section). We start off at breakfast with a fake newspaper and go throughout the day until we're instructed to go to sleep.

There are three things that really pop out at the reader in Kupperman's comics. First, his unbelievable chops as an artist enable him to sell any gag he wants. His style mimics the feel of classic comic strips and advertising on a surface level, especially the likes of Chester Gould. Second, the sheer density of material on every page is staggering and difficult to take all in after a first reading. On the newspaper page alone, there are fourteen separate gags. Third, Kupperman's true genius as a humorist is the ability to create jokes where the reader is practically told the punchline ahead of time, but the results are still hilarious. In this instance, the punchline almost acts as a kind of release. Bits like "Ask Professor. Sexy", where someone writes into a newspaper column with a random question, only to be told, "Why not have sex?" was a perfect example of Kupperman stretching out a premise only to slam it home. Kupperman then switches that up with random bits of insanity, like an advertisement for Taco Repair ("You'd swear it was a new taco"), complete with a phone number and odd font.

For fans of Kupperman's recurring characters, a number of them pop up in action stories. Twain and Einstein (of course drawn to look exactly the same) appear as hard-boiled cops. His most ridiculous creations, Snake 'n Bacon, also appear as cops (investigating the deadly duo of Asp 'n Taft). The best story is a reprint of a five-part Scaredy Kids story featuring the Bittern, Jungle Princess, an ant making love to a paperclip, Tony Mortadella and his cage of dangerous snakes and other insanity. The only other cartoonists who are in Kupperman's league in terms of sheer density and ability to craft gags at several different levels of awareness (from straightforward to meta) are John Kerschbaum and Sam Henderson. Kupperman's combination of craftsmanship and dada sensibilities make him uniquely appealing.

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