Tuesday, March 25, 2014

31 Days of Short Reviews #25: Basil Wolverton

Basil Wolverton is of course a legendary cartoonist and one of the bigger influences on Robert Crumb's style. His mixture of cartoony and grotesque also influenced cartoonists like Big Daddy Roth and a host of other alternative cartoonists. One of Wolverton's longest-running features was a single-page strip called The Culture Corner, which ran in the back of Whiz and the Marvel Family series published by Fawcett from 1945 to 1952. The strip combined three great things: the Rube Goldberg-inspired idea of coming up with a complicated (yet stupid) solution to a fairly easy problem, Wolverton's relentlessly goofy and grotesque line, and Wolverton's love of clever patter, which included lots of alliteration and rhyming. The 2010 collection published by Fantagraphics not only contains every published strip, it also contains the original roughs he did for each strip in order to gain editorial approval. Of course, a Wolverton rough is pretty close to a lot of cartoonist's finished work, so it's fascinating to compare them side by side, as Fantagraphics presents them here.

Wolverton's son Monte (a fine cartoonist in his own right) provided all of these material, which included Wolverton's fastidious bookkeeping as to the order he did the strips, as well as a list of rejects. Those rejected strips are included in rough form at the end of the book, and you can see where Wolverton rejected some of them because they borrowed too much from older strips. With each strip introduced by the cross-eyed, bearded and bald Croucher Q Conk, QOC (Queer Old Coot), the reader was given instruction on how to do things like eat soup without slurping (it involves boiling it dry) and avoiding the slurping which can cause "sip lip" and "suction pump hump". In this strip, we can see Wolverton doing his favorite kind of figure drawing, which involves distorting already funny-looking characters. He went to far greater extremes in other strips. What's interesting about his work is that the drawings are funny and intelligible on their own for the most part, but the same is true for his narrative captions. There's not quite the perfect fusion of word and image as one would find in a Goldberg invention strip, and there is absolutely no sense of restraint or dryness in his humor. Wolverton's strips are all-out assaults from the very first panel, and he only tries to up the ante from panel to panel. The result of this is a bit of reader fatigue if you read too many of them at once, but a perfect bomb of funny in small doses (as they were originally published). The additional material is interesting, but the volume in general is more for Wolverton super-fans than a casual reader.

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