Issue 3.2 and 3.3 of Magic Whistle (Alternative) find co-editor Sam Henderson (along with Marc Arsenault and David Nuss) still fiddling around with the anthology's format. Number 3.2 is in regular comic-book size and looks great, giving the gags more space on each page to breathe. Number 3.3 went back to the old mini-comics sized version, but this special X-mas issue is done in two colors (red and green, of course, by Jim Campbell). The bigger format was clearly better, but I hope future issues continue to feature color. The cover for 3.2 is a stand-out, with Danny Hellman illustrating a bedraggled Henderson in the future in front of a Dirty Danny statue somewhere, pleading "I created him, you know!" This is of course one of many inside jokes gone amok in Henderson's comics, as he created the Dirty Danny character as a take-off on a nickname Hellman held for a bit when he did a lot of illustration jobs for magazines like Screw.
Henderson has been recruiting both young humorists as well as welcoming back old pros. Issue 3.2 starts with a perfect fit with the slightly grotesque line of Tom Van Deusen, whose story about amazon.com's Jeff Bezos being a whiny crybaby who has to get his way all the time and is incapable of doing actual work on his own is not just funny in an over-the-top way, it eerily mimics the behavior of those in charge of the country at the moment. Seeing Bezos tromp around in a giant robot and then smashing up a Starbucks because he can't get his coffee quick enough is hilarious, especially when he decides to take a nap in the middle of the street inside his robot. Everything about every line of Van Deusen's art is grotesque, unflattering and revealing. Amy Lockhart takes the grotesque factor up a notch--not in terms of her drawing, which is deliberately minimalist--but in terms of the behavior of her characters. One of whom is a woman desperate for love who adopts a puppy and lavishes ridiculous amounts of love on it, and the other is why she bought the puppy--her abusive boyfriend that she's relentlessly devoted to, who at first wants to kill the puppy and then starts to love it after she gets injured and starts bleeding. It's abuse-speak in its most exaggerated but naked guise on the parts of both parties, which is why the laughs one gets from it are so uncomfortable.
Brigid Deacon's three one-page strips are all six-panel grids with variations on single round objects, like the sun, fried eggs, and a rotten tooth, all in various states of decay. Devin Flynn uses a dense, ink-heavy style to make a joke about sex and death, while the highlight of the issue for me was seeing new work from the legendary Seth Cooper (of Paper Rodeo fame). This new "Zissy & Rita" strip was a parody of Adventure Time and role playing games, with Zissy roleplaying a princess and failing miserably, as a bad role destroyed everyone in her kingdom. Things start to get even weirder when the ever-cynical Rita joins in on the game and she wants to go hang out with some evil witches because they can conjure black drugs. Matthew Thurber sites Cooper as an influence, and I'm not sure Simon Hanselmann has seen his work, but there seems to be a connection there as well. Cooper at heart is a storyteller, and there are rock-solid storytelling fundamentals underneath all the weird silliness, which is what makes his work so compulsively readable. Hopefully some sensible person will collect the 25+ years of material he's done.
As far as Henderson's work went in this issue, the highlight was the long, shaggy-dog story "The Berry Bedford Driggs Estate", which is about a dying billionaire who's looking for a worthy person to inherit all of his wealth. Henderson adorns his typically simple character design with all sorts of decorative aspects, like heavily hatched drapes, cross-hatching in other panels and a black & white checkerboard pattern on the floor. Henderson then flips everything with regard to that formula with "I Don't Even Know Anymore", a long story with absurdist rules that intentionally defy logic yet still remain consistent with its premise. There's also some more Cappy Jennings in this issue, but it's so highly abbreviated that I'm not sure why he bothered to put it in this issue.
What's remarkable about Magic Whistle 3.3 is that Henderson put together yet another set of guest-stars for his anthology without duplicating a single cartoonist from any of the five prior attempts at this he had made. He led with the great Steven "Ribs" Weissman doing a take on Henderson's own absurd, obscene "Lonely Robot Duckling" character. Despite the difference in styles, Weissman's version works because his scratchy, stiff line fit well with the inevitable horrible things that happen to those who happen upon the Lonely Robot Duckling. Jen Sandwich's anthropomorphic autobio was amusing, thought not the sort of thing that I would expect in an issue of Magic Whistle. There were moments of humorous insights rather than actual laughs in this story. Long-time veteran Roy Tompkins makes great use of the green and red to create an almost 3-D effect to go with this grotesque exploration of the moon, with lots of wrinkled monsters and other assorted weirdness. Corinne Halbert's lurid strip resembles something Eamon Espey might due in terms of its violence, gore and bodies being eaten by worms, along with a peeping-tom joke.
Henderson turns to holiday versions of his greatest hits, including a Dirty Danny strip involving poo and another featuring "What Would Dirty Danny Do?" (like putting dildos on the christmas tree), the odious "He Aims To Please" at a holiday party and getting kicked out because he's a pervert, Gunther Bumpus getting stuck in the catflap again and getting abused by Santa, and Mr Slitzka abusing people at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas because he's Jewish. Henderson also includes an indecipherable flow chart about the holidays, a strip about a guy who vomits christmas presents, and a filthy story about a snowman coming to life. There are also some reprints from old issues of Puck magazine that are very difficult to read in this small format. This issue (despite the eye-popping Tony Millionaire cover) wasn't quite as strong as the previous one, but it also shows that Henderson is willing to take chances. Right now, there's no one willing to take the chance to do a comedy anthology, and Henderson is willing to put his own work on the line in such an endeavor.