Thursday, August 14, 2014

Brit Comics: The Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humour: Volume 2

The Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humour Volume Two: The United Kingdom, is a follow-up to the publisher's first volume of humorists from the United States. One of the reasons why Hic & Hoc is one of my favorite new publishers is Matt Moses' dedication to printing actual humor comics, something that had gone out of style for many publishers over time. This volume, edited by Lizz Lunney and Joe List, focuses on quick-punch single page stories for the most part. A few key contributors have multiple strips throughout the book, giving it a nice rhythm while varying the style of humor. Some of the pieces are outright gags, while others are more humorous slice-of-life stories. I'm going to go creator by creator and focus on the most interesting strips in the book.

Luke Pearson: The NoBrow star is better known as being whimsical rather than out-and-out funny. In this book, however, he goes to all sorts of extremes. His first strip is a gross-out effort built around the expectation of a different punchline, subverting the comedy of manners that is the explicit punchline. His second strip once again subverts an initial interaction and goes in a far more absurd direction, as a man ends up in a romantic relationship with a robin and winds up falling out of what turns out to be a tree after sex. His third strip borrows from the Michael DeForge playbook, as what appears to be a personal ad written by a cartoonist is in fact written by a horrifying monster that's a DeForgian nightmare. The fourth strip also plays with his style in a different way, looking more like something out of Paper Rad, as a snooping roommate looks at someone's internet cache and finds some rather distressing search histories. Pearson really stretches his cartooning muscles here rather than do what is expected of him, and as a result he shines the brightest here. 

Lizz Lunney: Lunney's "Alternative Greeting Cards" are one of the funniest things in the book, with entries like "Congratulations on finding your long lost father/commiserations on finding out he's dead" being one of the darker and funnier bits. She uses a simple line to get across her humor that ranges from the absurd to the morbid.

Joe Decie: The autobio cartoonist consistently delivers the laughs here, whether he's talking about the "untidy Decie DNA" that afflicts three generations of slobs, a gag about his brain needing a system update, burying a remote battery and digging it up a week later to gain the satisfaction of having a working remote again, and (best of all) advising the reader to sell things to door-to-door solicitors as a means of driving them away. That's an especially artfully delivered strip, even with the backfire of having one of the salesmen enjoy the comic that Decie tries to sell to him. As always, Decie's slightly scratchy and naturalistic style and extensive use of greys creates a dreamy, pleasant atmosphere for the reader to latch on to.

Philippa Rice: Her strips about sisters are pleasantly grotesque and knowing about familial relationships; here, two sisters try to trick each other into putting raw eggs into tea and cereal. Rice employs a scribbly, scrawled style here where those scribbles filling in space are meant to be apparent. These are funny drawings meant to be looked at as drawings that nonetheless get across a certain kind of familial emotional truth.

Kristyna Baczynski: Her strips about aliens shopping and fossils arguing about whose eternal view is worse are mildly funny, but they are exceptionally well-drawn. Her funny and exaggerated style sells most of the jokes in both cases.

There are some strange strips that aren't conventionally funny, but they are of interest because of their sheer weirdness. Becky Barnicoat's entry about a bear who tries to make friends with children is lovingly rendered with a level of detail not unlike Anders Nilsen; the poor bear makes bizarre statues of children that partly frighten them but mostly drive the brats to get their parents to drive the bear away. James Downing's story of a demented child's show host who has a woman on to recite Pi is the single weirdest story, as she fails and goes on to hide on a mountain for a hundred years. The exaggerated character design and absurd (and occasionally non sequitur nature of the jokes) remind me a lot of Paper Rad. Donya Todd's story about crash landing on a planet is along the same lines visually, leaning toward more DeForge-style use of tiny, squiggly arms in what turns out to be a romp. Isaac Lenkiewicz has an anthropomorphic walrus attacked by naked children, creating a weird atmosphere where they accuse him of being a pervert. It's a story without a pat resolution that is nonetheless absurd in the most anxiety-provoking sense of the word, aided by his clean, beautiful line.

There are silly and less interesting gags as well, like Fred Blunt's scrawled monkey & elephant story where they take turns hurling things at each other, Jonathan Edwards' nonsensical story about onion curses, and Gary Northfield's extended sci-fi ass joke. The two outstanding slice-of-life bits both revolve around popular internet memes/games. Timothy Winchester turns a moment of appreciating nature into a typically demented game of "Would you rather?", expertly turning a rant of protest into a clever resolution thanks to a well-placed story beat panel. Stephen Collins' strip about a teenage boy trying to get over on a girl with a game of "Zombie Bunker Apocalypse" is funny and knowing, especially since the boy doesn't come close to getting over. The other really notable strip belongs to Gareth Brookes, even if it is a bit meta: he lists any number of stupid suggestions for comics people have given him over the years, with one example being the only two worthwhile topics: Chelsea and Chelsea Under-21s. The rest either don't really have much of a punchline or fall into the absurd or parody categories. The anthology clocks in at a tight seventy pages but easily could have been fifty pages and had more of an impact. It was nonetheless a solid effort that spotlights a number of young British cartoonists.

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