Friday, April 26, 2013

Gag Comic Round-Up: Garrison, Stewart, Staveley, Canini/Baxter

Onion Puss #1, by Chris Garrison. The artist behind Jakey The Jerk comes up with another predictable but solid series of jokes surroundingg its bulbous, off-putting titular hero. Garrison's agreeably cartoony style is well-suited for his gags and his onion-faced main character. He's a compendium of socially awkward, offensive tics who is nonetheless a sort of innocent in the face of his abiding crush on a skinny redhead named Priscilla. The short gags featuring OP stalking her in a video store and using offensive language while trying to mirror her evangelism were OK, but the real attraction in this issue is the long story "Ghost of a Chance". It's an extended riff on "Ghost Hunters" type-nonsense, with OP being treated as a sort of loveable scamp who winds up being seduced by a real ghost and saved by a buxom blonde who tries to overlook his many, many faults by saying "We'll have to work on that". When they set up a date at the end and she says something incredibly racist, OP can only say "We'll have to work on that." Garrison is an assured draftsman who uses an exaggerated line to great effect, and the result is a solid, well-crafted joke comic.The premise of the strip and the general nature of the jokes are both silly to the point of fluff, so it's a credit to his skill that he makes this material work as well as it does.

Odd Comics #1-2, by Scott Stewart. Stewart is an accomplished style mimic who pays tribute to a deep roster of cartoonists in this series of gags, homages, puns, eye-pops and other such silliness. Early R.Crumb is his most indelible influence, especially in the series of ridiculous puns in his "Euripedes Pants" stories. Of course, Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder's MAD is another stated influence in bits like "The Halfway House On Haunted Hill", a very funny story that puts monsters in therapeutic settings. In a more modern context, Stewart reminds me of a slightly less accomplished version of Roger Langridge. His line isn't as clean nor his mimicry as impeccable, but he shares Langridge's sheer relentlessness on the page. Hardly a panel goes by without at least three different jokes, funny drawings or puns in it. He goes deep in his homages and parodies, with "The Moon-Faced Monarch of Matzohville" being a take-off on George Carlson's "Pie-Faced Prince of Old Pretzelburg". It works as homage, but like everything Stewart does, is still very much in his own straightforward, joke-soaked style.

Issue #2 features a long homage to the characters in the comic-book based film from the 1950s, Artists and Models. It includes Stewart's imagining of the ultra-violent character shown in the movie and even includes an Alter-Ego style interview with the artist behind the strip (played in the film by Dean Martin, hence Stewart throws down tons of Martin & Lewis references in the story). While most of the stories center around getting to punchlines (as "Bad Jokes for English Majors" and "Bad Jokes for Philosophy Majors" might indicate), there's also an enigmatic, extended homage to Moebius by way of Shelley. Seeing Stewart strip down his line to a sparse minimum was interesting after seeing him go big and broad for everything else he does. The story seemed to me to be an ode to the poem "Ozymandias", only the explorer in the desert this time has the opportunity to interact with the monument, deeming it wise to simply walk away in the end. Stewart is not an innovator as a humorist; everything here feels like it's directly linked to a vast network of influences. This is not to say that these comics aren't entertaining or well-crafted. Indeed, there's a great deal of pure pleasure to be gained from looking at his drawings and connecting the dots to his many and often obscure references. I'd gladly read another issue of this comic, if only to see what Stewart is keen to mine next.

Anxious Robot Funnies #1-2, Mitt Romney Meets James Brown, by Jotham Staveley. Staveley is a relative newcomer to comics, but I find his energy and approach to be quite appealing, and he shows great promise as an artist whose sense of humor resides between pitch-black and absurd. His shtick is drawing robots and monsters in a crude, slightly over-rendered style and having them discuss issues that range from the banal to the emotional. "Battle To The Death", for example, is a conversation about one guy telling another guy that he's not going to invite him over to Thanksgiving because he and his wife are keeping it low-key. The action, however,  is that of a man battling a sort of shadowy monster in a brutal fistfight. The second issue sees the titular anxious robot putting out a tip jar for his trumpet busking performance, only to be interrupted by a male and female giant monster couple getting into a fight, then wrecking the city, then getting disintegrated by a giant robot. Staveley makes the intensity of his rendering work for him even if it lacks clarity at times, thanks to the sheer ridiculousness of what he's drawing as well as the simplicity of his figures. His Romney/JB comic is very funny, with the Godfather coming back the dead ("I'm just laying low") to slap Romney around and pound some sense into him. Staveley clearly knows his JB mythology and captures his iconic, charismatic presence. These minis are all very short (I believe they were the product of a workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies), but it's obvious that Staveley already has a voice and style all his own; all he needs from here on out is to refine them. His short, untitled booklet of sketches (with CD!) reveals an artist bursting with ideas.

Drunken Cat Comics Anniversary and Ruffians 1-7, by Brian Canini and Derek Baxter. Canini (with occasional writing partner Baxter) has been drawing for over eleven years, and the Drunken Cat comic collects representative work from this period. Ruffians is a heavily Dave Sim-influenced series about funny animal mob hitmen, with a gorilla framing a short bear that wears boxing gloves. Neither held much interest for me; it all seemed to be material that I've seen better-written and better-drawn elsewhere. The strip about the Devil going to his high school reunion felt like a paint-by-numbers affair, as the jokes were easy to predict from beginning to end. Ruffians is an obvious labor of love whose tone is discordant from the very beginning. Like Sim's Cerebus, only a couple of the characters are anthropomorphic animals, which makes following the action a bit strange because it's almost entirely devoid of humor. Indeed, the mob and prison cliches feel pretty rote, though there are a few interesting twists and turns (like the main character, Scar, getting his Kilgore Trout moment when he meets his creator in a fumetti dream sequence). Canini's storytelling lacks clarity and style and just looks messy. Even his more recent work has a simple, bland quality that serves to move the story along and little else. His work does look better in color on his website, however.

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