Sunday, June 7, 2009

Pulp, EC and Anti-Nostalgia: Tales Designed to Thrizzle #5

Rob reviews the newest issue of Michael Kupperman's mind-bending humor mag, TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE #5.

Six Reasons Why Michael Kupperman Is A Genius (A bullet-pointed review of THRIZZLE #5):

1. Repetition is the key to humor. The Ben Franklin gag on the back cover, featuring 12 absurd variations on "A penny saved is a penny earned", culminates in "A penny paid to Penny is a tale of two pennies". If you're going to repeat a joke, commit to that repetition. Kupperman's sense of dada always tends to maximize the comedic impact of this technique.

2. Running with a concept. In his "Remember Them" feature, he concocts nonsensical life stories for non-existent celebrities. It's the premise of each that drives the joke, like Gerald St Vincent Mutley's promulgating the "trench lifestyle" after his World War I experiences, or "Professor Anus" removing objects from drunkard's anuses at their insistence and getting a radio show out of it, or Oscar Wilde III threatening to sue anyone who said his famous grandfather was a homosexual. Another example is "Hobo Fashions", giving the reader minute details about a haute coture fashion line that precisely mimics stereotypical hobo dress of 1933.

3. Play it straight. Kupperman very rarely employs funny drawings to emphasize humor; that is, there are no bigfoot figures, eyes popping out, plop takes, etc. Instead, the old-fashioned nature of his illustration lends a certain dryness to his strips, which makes their absurdity all the more effective. As far as the reader is concerned, these really are old pulp stories, and Kupperman's refusal to wink at the reader even as he's feeding them utter nonsense is one of his best qualities as a humorist.

4. Subvert the expected. In "Legs To Die For", Kupperman actually does use a funny drawing to drive the joke, but subverts our understanding of the image. An EC-style drawing of a man in a suit with sexy women's legs is indeed funny. An intergalactic conspiracy to create this image, complete with an Old Hag narrator at the end (who actually is in charge of the complaints section at a department store) is even funnier. Kupperman's ultimate subversion is of the standard EC horror twist ending; the payoff drawing is one of his best gags ever, melding that funny drawing (sexy women's legs in unexpected places) with subverting reader expectations.

5. Twain and Einstein. This is his new go-to pair driving his stories, replacing the more limited Snake 'n Bacon. The main joke driving their pairing is that they are drawn to look exactly alike, but Kupperman takes that minor premise and drives it to some weird places. Twain and Einstein are a pair of Archies-style scamps; they're grizzled detectives; they're sexy reporters; they're hard-luck inventors; they're superheroes. Sometimes they're several of these things in the same story. Exchange of the issue: Einstein: "I won't give up being a superhero, even if it means my marriage!" Twain: "Good thing you're neither married nor a superhero!"

6. Tales of the Intestinal Submarine. This is the single best dada gag in the book. Drawn as a 50s-style comic, the self-explanatory premise is sold with a guy eating a bowl of soup and the submarine's crew saying "Well, here we go--again!!" Even though THRIZZLE is becoming increasingly text-heavy (to great comic effect, as in "Albert Einstein's Flashback Scheme"), Kupperman's facility as a one-panel gagsmith is still his go-to skill as a humorist.

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