As I've noted before, it's always a bit awkward reviewing and analyzing comics whose main purpose is being funny. They either make you laugh or they don't, but examining exactly why this is like killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. That said, let's take a look at some recent humor minicomics and the different approaches they used.
Summer Fun With Elroy P Dinner is a mini that's an excerpt from an upcoming issue of Sam Henderson's Magic Whistle. Henderson is probably the preeminent gagmaster in this generation of cartoonists. In particular, he's a master at subverting situational humor, either by upending expectations, taking situations to their logical extremes, or by stacking so many absurd elements on top of each other that he destroys any semblance of logic or structure. This mini is his technique in microcosm. It's about a bearded restaurant critic who only gives good reviews to restaurants where everyone involved is wearing a beard. The restaurant owner panders to him by forcing everyone (including customers) to wear fake beards, then has to pander to a pirate food critic and a cowboy yodeling food critic. He then throws in the fact that the restaurant is famous for cat food sandwiches and takes us to the cat food factory (owned by a talking cat, of course). This insanity is made all the more effective by Henderson's crude but expressive characters, all of whom just look inherently funny to my eyes. Henderson flogs a premise until it starts to lose all meaning, and this commitment to a joke while finding a thousand different ways to warp it is what makes him a master. Check out http://magicwhistle.com for more.
Matt Wiegle of the Partyka group checks in with Your Karate Vacation. Wiegle's sense of humor is usually a bit dry, but he goes for all-out silliness in this comic. This is an 8-page mini that combines martial arts cliches with travelogue banalities, and the result is very funny. The cover image shows a karate warrior with his leg up, ready to strike--but with a martini balanced on it and standing on a beach. Every page is its own gag, and they're all funny. The best might be one captioned "Some tips on the use of public transportation:" for a diagram that shows our karate master leaping from the street to on top of a passing bus. Wiegle doesn't go for the kitchen sink like Henderson does, instead, he juxtaposes two unlike things and wrings every bit of humor out of them.
As Eavesdropped, Vol 2 by Suzanne Baumann depicts out-of-context scenes and overheard conversations. This works well because of Baumann's timing and rubbery style that gives the eye something to latch onto. The best story is about a movie theatre cashier who receives a compliment from an elderly woman about her politeness, only to get savagely critiqued when she reveals that she's 26, not a teenager: "Why on earth are you working HERE?" This mini is short and sweet, with a great premise.
Tom Gauld takes a completely different tact in Guardians of the Kingdom. He's deadpan and dry, but gets all sorts of laughs out of this story of two guards defending a wall from invaders that never come. They build snowmen, throw rocks, brew tea, piss off the wall--anything to alleviate boredom and their simultaneous need for each other's company and resentment of same. Gauld is known for his spare lines, but there's a lushness to this comic, thanks to the manic work he did crosshatching and shading so many of the pages. This comic is beautiful and wistful, but I found myself chuckling on every page as well. I picked up my copy from Buenaventura Press.
Most of the folks in this article are polished veterans. That's why reading Alexander Rocine's Binge of the Space Pig was just an unusual pleasure, because this comic obviously just flowed from the pen of a young artist who just wanted to draw something that made him laugh. The effect is sort of like a cross between Rory Hayes and Monty Python, as a group of pirate teddy bears sail the ocean, the author visits the YMACA (Young Man's Anti-Christian Association, an old Python joke) and winds up hanging out with Satan as he gets a tour of hell from a penguin demon. These comics are crudely-drawn but have an enormous amount of energy and imagination. As Rocine cycles through his influences, refines his style and firmly establishes his own voice, he could become quite a cartoonist. He's already a great stylist and has a no-holds-barred approach to storytelling, not to mention a considerable amount of enthusiasm. His sense of humor combines the absurd and the demented, and a willingness to try anything on the page. Seek out http://www.myspace.com/maskedcreature for more.
Last on this list is the one and only Matt Feazell, the Rembrandt of stick-figure mini-comics. I've been reading his work for close to 20 years, and he only keeps getting better. His stick figures are more expressive than most humorists' regular figures, and it's no accident--I've seen some of his test sheets where he perfects his methods. The result is pure storytelling, with no extraneous elements. Anything extra he packs into a panel is either devoted directly to the story, character, or gag--even if it's just a decorative element. The comics I got at MOCCA were The Amazing Cynicalman #15-18. These are collections of his weekly strip, featuring characters he's been writing for years, like Cynicalman, Cute Girl, Stupid Boy, etc. Feazell is pretty conventional when it comes to most of his punchlines, but the clarity of his storytelling is so powerful, that one's eye just can't get enough of what he's doing. On one page, he had a strip that ran for 15 tiny panels to get to its punchline, yet his sense of rhythm and timing is so impeccable that the eye just zipped across the page. Feazell veers from absurd gags (like an elevator to Alpha Centauri), to goofy puns, to clever observations ("Wonders of Domesticaton" traces the evolution of fierce beasts into pets, and ends with the hunter being turned into a sales manager), to sociopolitical commentary, to some jokes with nasty punchlines. Like many of my favorite artists, Feazell's features could only work as comics, and there's something about seeing them in standard 8-page mini form that's very comforting.