Monday, June 24, 2013

Gag Work: Desmond Reed and Dina Kelberman

Uncles and Fruits & Vegetables, by Desmond Reed. Creepy uncles are not unusual in fiction, but Reed takes it to a whole other level in Uncles. This first issue of what appears to be a multi-part saga sees Reed channeling Basil Wolverton and the highly detailed and ugly MAD school of drawing in sending up zombie fiction in general. When a man and his girlfriend go look for their dog in the dark, they find a trio of deadly uncles lurking by a dumpster. When one of the uncles sticks his tongue in her ear, she sure enough is transformed into a hairy, fat-fingered and altogether unpleasant figure of terror. This is good dumb fun that's lent a bit of weight thanks to Reed's intense hatching style and overall level of detail. The jokes about the unpleasant hairiness of the uncles works because Reed lovingly draws every last follicle in excruciating detail.

Fruits and Vegetables collects his mini small minis from the past few years. Here are my reviews of "Todd", "Aloha" and "The Island", which happen to be some of his stronger gag comics, especially the funny twists of "Todd". Another strong conceptual strip is "The Usual", which is about sentient silverware wondering who's going to be on call fr that night's meal. When fork and knife realize that they have the night off, they briefly chat and then start making out. "Too Late" features sixteen blank panels followed by a robot bemoaning his lateness and wishing for more time, only to run out of panels. "The First Day" and "A Lesson Learned" both feature anthropomorphic objects (mugs and cups in the former, shapes in the latter) trying to find ways to act superior to each other, only to get undercut at the very end. Reed's simple, functional line is designed to deliver the gag as simply as possible, and this collection is a great starting point for a very funny cartoonist.

Important Comics Vol 2, by Dina Kelberman.This one came out in 2011 and is a fairly direct sequel to her series of cut-up observations from her website. Once again, Kelberman's tiny cylindrical character and little blob character with hair (both extensions of Kelberman herself) cut up at each other's expense, bemoaning a lack of motivation and interest in the world while desperately clinging to it. Her dramatic and decorative lettering, non-intuitive and at times garish use of color, and her weird page and panel design make her comics as disconcerting as ever, keeping the reader off-balance on a continual basis. For Kelberman, process is everything. The comic isn't so much about reaching a particular destination nor even the journey itself, but rather the moments of distraction. Kelberman's all about in-between time, what happens to characters when they go off-stage and passive-agressive confrontations. It helps her cause greatly that she has a sharp wit and has really refined these strips (as much as they can be refined) to something almost resembling a formula that works time and again. These are also some of my favorite strips about what it means to be lonely, what it means to encounter frustration when trying to express oneself, and what it means to repeatedly sabotage oneself. Combining this themes with the comics equivalent of having brightly-colored flashlights dance all over the page while you're reading it adds to the sense of discord that Kelberman is clearly trying to invoke. Kelberman is really in a category by herself.

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