Five Overlooked Comics from 2005

There have been a number of “Best of 2005″ lists out there, but I wanted to do something slightly different. I think everyone knows that Chris Ware and Charles Burns and Dan Clowes are great, but there were plenty of other books and authors just as worthy of praise and attention. To that end, here’s a list of Five Overlooked Comics from 2005. They’re all very different in aim and style, something I tried to do deliberately. One is a “pure” humor book, the funniest of the year. Another is a collection of hilariously nasty political cartoons. Yet another is an autobiographical anthology with an interesting concept. The last two are both difficult to categorize in any form, other than they are collections of short works by two remarkable authors. They are presented in alphabetical order by title.1. Goddess Head, by Dash Shaw (Teenage Dinosaur, $11.99).

I’ve mentioned Shaw before in these parts, but he’s hard to pin down because his work continues to evolve from book to book. What doesn’t change is the way he strives to do something new in every strip, while tackling the themes that inform his work: the pain of human relationships, the struggle that children have in adapting to an adult world that squelches their imagination, and the nature of identity.

His latest is a collection of short stories that display his obsession with what it means to be human, framed by a formal strategy that is unique in the world of comics. Shaw employs magical realism and surrealist imagery on a regular basis, but goes much further in his experimentation than that. The way he designs each story, including panel placement, the way he uses the physical quality of the letters in his words, the way he uses and twists conventions and expectations: it’s all rooted in his interest in language. In particular, he is always exploring the way that language fails as humans struggle to relate to and understand each other. These formal pyrotechnics never feel forced or pretentious, because they are always in service to the emotion underlying each story. They act as a sort of buffer for the reader, distancing the artist from the raw intensity the artist is trying to convey. The visceral power of his stories lurks just beneath the surface of their form, and invite multiple readings to tease them out.

The titular short story has Shaw bombarding the reader with crazy images and ideas. In it, we see a young man with a deformed nose breaking up with his girlfriend, who happens to be an anthropomorphic banana. Shaw cleverly uses the page for his first trick; the woman asks the man why he’s breaking up with her, and he replies: “Your ___n.___ is too ____adj.____, and your __n.__ is too ____adj.____.” It works because what he says doesn’t really matter, to him or to her…they’re just words. She becomes hysterical and starts weeping, and not only drowns him in her tears but floods all of New Jersey.

That sets up a brilliantly designed couple of pages. The first involves the banana-woman floating through the flood in an inner tube, and the page sets up a group of panels in a circle as she babbles to herself; she’s just going in circles. The next page sees her floating by in three panels in the middle of the page. Underneath the third panel, there’s another panel revealing what’s below her in the water. The next few pages reveal watery scrawl from the artist, emotional pleadings and resignation to misery. Things then shift to several pages of flood survivors’ portraits; the payoff for this comes when he shifts styles to iconic block figures and asks rhetorically if there’s such a thing as a perfect person, which he answers “No” to over and over. In other words, the survivors of the flood were humans, no one special. We are all human and fallible, and relationships break down when more than that is expected or demanded. The strip ends with a car driving down a highway. We don’t see the driver or any other cars; we are ultimately alone.

Shaw adeptly uses absurdism to address the Big Existential Issues. In “Always Speak The Truth, Devote Your Life To Truth”, he uses the trappings of a detective murder mystery story crossed with the game Clue to detail a slew of frustrated relationships. As he starts to use stark black images, he refers to himself using those blacks. The detective/narrator speaks in this clipped tone (“YOU: Are a detective”, “AND: Your sister too”) that quickly deviates from conventional narrative (“MAKES: You and your sister feeling like fucking shit”, “BUT: You love her”) until the detective gives up, because “WE: All die eventually.” What’s the Meaning? There is no meaning, because we all face the same fate. But while this story indicates Shaw’s existential qualities, he is not a nihilist.

In fact, while the book is filled with despair over the failures of human relationships, it seems clear that seeking these relationships out is what makes us human. A common theme running through his stories is the visceral nature of being alive. He is constantly reminding his characters to breathe, while feelings of intense heat and cold and what it feels like to touch and be touched are also quite common. And of course, sex and occasionally violence are ever-present in his works. Shaw uses this as a touchstone for the idea that our minds/souls/feelings are not separate from our bodies, they are intrinsically and inescapably embodied. His stories show how we fight this idea, and it leads to the breakdowns in communication in his stories.

In “Time Travel”, we begin with the sun beating down on a ship (the sun is made up of the words “the heat”, another little formal trick). There are 2 couples stuck in 2 crates, one a pair of young girls and the other an older couple. The story is about yearning and the impossibility of ever becoming truly satisfied. The couple has sex and the girls listen in and immediately wish they were adults (“I wanna pay taxes”). They get so excited they start leaping on their bed, and the couple hears this and immediately wish they were children again. The crates-as-panels literally crash into each other as the ship sinks, and the quartet finds themselves on an iceberg. Faced with the cold expansiveness they had longed for, they immediately wish to be contained in a hot crate again. Shaw here balances the parallel narration with a simple style and spells the dialogue in sort of a Herriman-esque, childlike way. The story reveals that both adults and children are lacking something with regard to how they look at the world. It comes down to how children are always looking toward the future and its infinite possibilities and can look at it with wonder, while adults long for the past and can longer afford to think of the world in this manner.

I won’t discuss all of the stories in this collection, but I must analyze the final one: “Echo and Narcissus.” It’s a retelling of the classic myth that happens to dovetail nicely with Shaw’s themes regarding love and communication. It begins with a page showing a ravine, and another depicting a still lake: the two symbols of the main characters. Then we get another page of Echo’s speech annoying her companion so much that she puts a bird mask on her to restrict her speech. Switching back to Narcissus, Shaw really goes to town with this page. The first panel simply says “Photo of You Here”, the second is of an electrical outlet, the third of an air-conditioning unit, and the fourth is a drawing of Narcissus himself: the ultimate iconic blank slate. It’s a circle with 2 dots for eyes and a line for a mouth. Narcissus is everyone, and Narcissus is no one special.

Shaw then turns around and turns his iconic dots and dash loose on the page, as they squiggle around (almost sperm-like?) until they coalesce back into a smiley face and 2 exclamation marks. Then the story begins: Echo finds Narcissus in a forest and throws herself at him. He rebuffs her and shoves her down a hill where she falls into a ravine. He then sees his own reflection in a lake and “sees” his words reflected back at him as though they were his own. He falls in love with his cold reflection and then throws himself in and drowns when he is “rebuffed”. In an epilogue, it’s revealed that Narcissus is not as “perfect” as he seemed—he had acne and scars on the back of his neck, which he could not see. Echo is known to be a stutterer.

This story is a tour-de-force in so many aspects. Narcissus calls out for someone and Echo jumps on top of him. When he says “Away with these embraces”, Echo passionately replies “These embraces!”. Repulsed, he yells “Don’t touch me!” and she pleas “Touch me!”. When she is rolled down the hill, she finally speaks with her own voice (echoing itself), hoping that someone hurts him like he did to her. In a remarkable sequence, we see Narcissus in a series of panels at the top of the page as he approaches the reflective lake, and we see Echo at the bottom of a ravine. Her words, symbolized by an empty word balloon, travel to the top of the page, where they trap Narcissus’ words. When Narcissus cries “Woe is me—for the boy I loved in vain!”, his reflection says the same thing—only it’s Echo’s way of getting revenge.

It’s a fitting final story, because it sums up everything else in the book. People are desperate to give up their identities like Echo and too self-absorbed to receive love like Narcissus. The handicap is language; because we use it to disguise intent and deflect the world, we in turn have difficulty using it to express true meaning. Using two blank slates with previously established identities allows Shaw to really drive this point home. It’s both less personal because of the lack of autobiographical anecdotes sneaking into the story and more personal because he lays out his feelings so plainly. We are always and ever frustrated in trying to communicate like Echo, but to not try is to become Narcissus, and that way leads to nihilism. While the quest for authentic communication may be doomed to failure because of our natures as embodied intelligences, one must still struggle in the attempt because this is what it means to be human. Shaw is concerned with this idea above all else.

2. Recidivist, by Zak Sally (La Mano, $15).
I’ve been peripherally aware of Sally’s work for quite some time through an assortment of anthologies, but his collected work seen here floored me. There were a number of great comics published in 2005, but I would have to give Recidivist my highest honors, for its originality, complexity and compellingly dark tone. Sally is better known to some as the former bass player of the band Low. Their 2005 record, The Great Destroyer, was on many critics’ lists for best album of the year. (It really is a fantastic record, and Sally does the art for it.) Recently, Sally decided it was time to quit the band for various reasons. With the life of recording and touring put aside, it’s opened up more room for comics, his other passion. He started his own publishing company, collecting the work of his friend John Porcellino in the memorable Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man. Then he put out a handsome hardcover collection of his own work over the years, all before he officially decided to quit Low.

It is difficult to discuss this collection of short stories without giving away story points. While Sally isn’t a cheap “twist” artist who relies on shock instead of craft, there are indeed profound surprises to be found in each story that a new reader should be able to savor. What I can note is that his stories require a careful reader willing to carefully examine details, because Sally doesn’t spell a lot of things out. Happily, the stories have a lyrical power and depth that invites and rewards multiple readings.

There are six short stories in the collection. None directly relate to each other, but there are strange interconnections here and there, not to mention certain thematic similarities. The first three stories (“Feed The Wife”, “The Secret Girls” and “Animal Vomit”) all have to do with secrets. The first story involves a man who keeps his wife locked up in their basement; what is the true nature of their relationship? Here, there is no narrator, no one to give the reader any clues as to what’s going on other than the panels chosen by the artist. In the second story, we switch to an omniscient but not necessarily helpful narrator who tells us all about the Secret Girls, who come along to “save” you when you’re about to utter that last secret.

“Animal Vomit” is the most dazzling bit in the book. It too is heavily narrated, but this time the narrator is a nameless character in the story. It’s about three men who have an unusual disease: they each have the head of a different animal (pig, monkey, wolf) and come to a facility for treatment. The story builds up unbelievable suspense to a climax that is utterly bizarre and over-the-top. It’s really about what is done in the name of secrecy, the relationship between lies and information. It’s a spoof on conspiracies and hidden knowledge, still told with an aura of dread.

Sally’s art adds to the somewhat downbeat nature of his work. He combines a fine, thin line with the heavy use of blacks. The pages in “Animal Vomit” are all black, including gutter lines. This adds to the air of mystery and oppressiveness, the sense that everything is hidden and undecipherable/unrecoverable. The thin line helps ease the mood in some respects, reducing its dynamism. There is nothing overwrought or overstated on Sally’s page. Subtlety is his hallmark, as the details of each panel never have a spotlight thrust upon them, telling the reader what to observe. Instead, his pages have a muted quality, making it all the more shocking when something mad happens on them. Sally’s stories are not without humorous and absurd moments. “Animal Vomit” in many ways is hilarious, and there are moments of black humor throughout the book.

The second half of Recidivist deals with mortality, retribution and desperate pleas for help. “The Great Healing” may be the best story in the book. The narrative comes from one character, talking out loud to his friend who is missing. The images are of that friend, driving along, oblivious to the wondrous news his friend wants to tell him. The ending is inevitable and shattering. The narrative is amazing: “Miracles fell from the sky, like bullets…Lovers returned to their beds. Poetry was annihilated. Tears crawled back into wet eyes.”

As nuanced and wrenching as that story was, Sally turns around and hits the reader over the head with his next story, about a disgusted surgeon laboring over a hopeless patient. Sally reverses ground in every way: white becomes the dominant color, there’s a visceral quality on every page and an increasing sense of the author’s cynicism and disgust. That carries over into the final story, “Your Black Fucking Heart”. It’s about a man who deserves to die and gets what’s coming to him from above. What makes it fascinating is the narrator is talking to the “you” who dies, but who can’t hear them. Like “The Secret Girls”, the narrator lays everything bare for the reader, but this knowledge only creates more questions.

The title of the collection gives the reader a hint as to what’s going on. There are patterns found in each story, patterns that reveal that the behavior found in each has been going on for quite some time, despite any attempt at reform or improvement. It’s too late to change, even if there was any intention of changing. A heart was broken one too many times, another person committed one wrong too many, another person saw one horror too many and cracked. The result was a work like no other in 2005: full of real horror and terror, the struggle that is daily existence and how we find ways to cope (or not). These stories stay with you, both inviting and rewarding detailed readings. Any fan of art comics must get their hands on this book.

3. Tales Designed To Thrizzle, by Michael Kupperman (Fantagraphics, $4.95)
Writing about humor is extremely difficult and usually quite boring. In addition to being a matter of personal taste more than anything else in the arts, analyzing a scene to find out why it’s funny often results in a killing-the-goose-that-laid-the-golden-eggs scenario. As an aside, I think humor being a matter of personal taste is the biggest reason why comedies in general and humorous comics in particular are so often looked down upon by critics.

Well, get me my carving knife, because that goose is about to get sliced up. First, let me discuss what I think is funny and what isn’t. I think strips that rely on some sub-genre that requires specific knowledge of that sub-genre are perhaps my least favorite form of humor. I’m thinking of strips about video games or role-playing games here, like the extremely popular PvP or Penny Arcade. I suppose the authors of said strips are to be commended for finding an audience and giving it exactly what it wants, but my selfish concern is for what I find funny, and it’s clear that I’m not a desired part of their audience.

The same goes for strips that rely heavily on pop culture references. Those go stale quite quickly, and rarely have anything interesting to say. I also detest the kind of frat-boy humor that several alternative artists throw out there; sexual innuendo is easy, but writing jokes with actual punchlines is hard. On the other side of the fence, I don’t have much use for strips that shock for the sake of shocking or rely almost entirely on scatological humor in the world of alternative comics.

So what do I like? I love the exaggerated satire of Peter Bagge, the gag writing of Kyle Baker, the manic energy of Evan Dorkin, the stoopid-but-smart cleverness of Sam Henderson, the brutal willingness to go all the way that Ivan Brunetti possesses, and the postmodern silliness of Martha Keavney. But above all others, I love the absurd humor of Michael Kupperman.

There’s a density to his work that adds power to every panel. He’s a skilled gag writer, often choosing jokes that deliberately contrast his illustrative style. That style can best be described as using heavily rendered backgrounds (often almost looking like woodcuts) and often realistic figures doing absolutely insane things. Non sequiturs are common but always manage to be funny. His drawings themselves can be amusing, but he rarely uses stylistic exaggeration to make his punchlines. His work has what can be described as an “old-timey” feel, with the illustrations looking like something out of the 1930′s, and he uses this to his advantage when coming up with his punchlines. It’s Dada in the best sense of the word: unpredictable, cannabilizing other images, and absurd.

Let’s look at the first issue of his new series. First of, I love the conceptual humor of dividing the issue into adult, kid’s and old people’s sections, with only the appropriate age groups allowed to read each one (for example, you must be over 82 to read the old people’s section). In the adult section, we get an ad where a lurking Mickey Rourke sells his pubic hair stencil designs to an office worker in order to impress women (“Death Of A Bullfighter: This one I started as a novel, then I realized the story would work better within the medium of pubic hair). The art here perfectly mimics the sort of stiff comic-book ads that most everyone is familiar with.

Visually, the best strip is “Holiday Frolics”, which begins as a standard educational strip about Christmas and Easter, and quickly moves into a paean to “Jesus’ half-brother PAGUS!” Pagus is this sort of 1980′s cartoon character that one might have seen in Thundarr or Thundercats. A sort of lion character with a tiara, a blanket tied into a cape, and wrestling tights with a big P on them. The simpler, more iconic character provides a hilarious weird contrast to the more heavily rendered scenes in the strip, which gets steadily more absurd as it progresses (surfing on lava in his underground kingdom, his CD Pagus Sings available through his website, and Pagus constantly laughing “HA HA HA HA HA HA!”).

In the kid’s section, Kupperman introduces a boy band (the closest he comes to using a recent topic) called Boybank, which also devolves into extreme absurdity after starting with mild absurdity. Then it takes a left turn into following their manager, a mustachioed 1800′s villain-type. The narrator tells us what he’s doing, going into a bad part of town, entering a building and then taking things out of a cupboard. The drawing here relies on heavy blacks: the black-adorned character, the shadowy streets, the woodcut-looking room, all to reveal him painting an easter egg…for Pagus! The last panel switches to that that 80′s-cartoon look once again, as we see Pagus laughing. I love this strip because he switches visual styles (Boybank themselves get blue backgrounds and simpler rendering) and then brings back an older joke in the manner of a skilled improv artist who builds layers of references into sketches, repeating them at unexpected moments.

There are other repeating motifs, like his detective characters Snake ‘n Bacon (literally, a snake and a talking piece of bacon that says things like “I’m tasty in a sandwich), Sex Holes and Sex Blimps, and variations on using tired genre clichés to fuel funny stories. Perhaps my favorite along those lines is “Are Comics Serious Literature?”, where two cowboys engage in a fistfight over that very topic. After the “good guy” wins, he asks “Now who else says comics aren’t serious literature?” The genius of that strip is that it looks and feels exactly like a cowboy fistfight comic should look like in terms of action and character design, but it all serves to tell the joke.

In the end, this level of detail is what draws me to Kupperman’s work. It’s not just that he writes good punchlines, it’s that every single panel is funny. It’s not just that I find his non sequiturs funny (though I do), it’s that he makes everything leading up to them hilarious. All throughout, he constantly deflects reader expectation, sometimes even from panel to panel. The result is a book that is steeped in comics, genre and illustration history that works without the reader needing to know specific information about any of that history in order to find it funny. Even stranger for a humor book, Kupperman’s art and design sense is genuinely beautiful, and that aesthetic appeal is yet another tool in his comedic arsenal, because he uses that as part of technique of turning reader expectation on its head. The next issue of this series will arrive in stores in February.

4. True Porn Volume 2, edited by Robyn Chapman and Kelli Nelson (Alternative, $19.95). This is a 250-page anthology dedicated to one thing: autobiographical stories about sex. The first volume had a lot of good stories, but also a lot of filler. A number of the stories may have been true, but weren’t of much interest (even as porn). The editors, two talented artists known mostly for their minicomics work, did a much better job of selecting material and arranging the 46 stories in a manner that flowed quite well. From the peeping-Tom cover drawn by Chester Brown, we as readers are voyeurs into the worlds of these artists, most of whom are also mini-comics stars, anthology contributors or webcomics creators.

Anthologies are tricky, especially ones that have an open submissions policy like this one. It’s easy for the work of one bad artist to taint one’s experience of the work as a whole. It’s difficult to edit and arrange the stories in a manner that makes sense. Any anthology that is themed often falls prey to repetitiveness, especially when artists tend to mine the same clichés regarding a subject (the 2004 SPX War anthology and all of the awful 9/11 anthologies in particular fell prey to this problem). That’s why I was amazed by the overall quality of this anthology, even from artists whose work I generally have no interest in.

The stories in the book did fall into some stratification patterns: serious or humorous, childhood experience, first adult experience or recent experience, cartoony or realistically rendered, demure or hardcore, and satisfying/unsatisfying. Pretty much everything broke down along these lines, and not always in expected ways. For example, Jon Siruno did a story where all the characters were anthropomorphized animals drawn in an iconic style. While this story had its light moments and was not explicit, the ending was remarkably grim. This contrast made this one of the most memorable stories in the book.

The most effective stories overall tended to be either the funny stories or childhood reminiscences. Karen Sneider’s “Can’t Buy Me Loft” is the most laugh-out-loud story, detailing her fling with a guy she hired to build her a loft in college, with a gag in every panel. Rich Tomasso’s “Don’t Come In My House” and Fredo’s “Circus Peanut” were also hilarious. Yet an all-humor sex anthology wouldn’t have worked as well as this did, with the earnestness of some of the pieces contrasting the humor. The whimsy of pieces like Eleanor Davis’ “I Wish You Were Tiny”, about a silly conversation between her and her boyfriend, proved to be palate-cleansing interludes after a heavy meal of hardcore sex. The editors placed that story after an outrageous, hardcore story, and were wise to do so.

The other memorable pieces were the most bizarre of anecdotes. The talented Nick Jeffrey’s story “The Hot Tub”, a tale told by a friend of the narrator’s that involves a threesome in a hot tub and ends with the suicide of the boyfriend of one of the women involved, is somehow hilarious the whole way through. Justin Hall’s “Only In San Francisco”, involves three men with quite differing sexual tastes (anal ball insertion, a scrotum licking dog, etc), and a hilarious punchline. The best-written piece may be “Aaron”, written by Sharon Lintz. She writes about porn for a living and this tale of a friend of hers in the industry is oddly compelling, as the reader comes to share her admiration of its lead.

Not every story is compelling or even interesting, and that has more to do with the creators than the stories, I imagine. Still, they work in the context of the book, which is a page-turner even with its great length. Talking about one’s sexual experiences is a great way for an artist to really demonstrate their basic chops; the rawness of the experience is something anyone should be able to channel, but a good artist should be able to tell a truly compelling story. What’s remarkable is that there are so many excellent young artists in this book.

5. Why Do They Kill Me?, by Tim Kreider (Fantagraphics, $14.95).
Political humor is very difficult to pull off without it being either hopelessly cliched, didactic or both. Very little political humor is worth reading after its reference point passes. These points are all addressed by Kreider in his author’s commentary for the strips. Speaking of why another political cartoon didn’t work, he notes “I decided that the cartoonist, like most liberals, just wasn’t mean enough. He’s angry about the new Republican regime’s policies, but he doesn’t hate them. He doesn’t consider them personal enemies. I do; that’s my advantage, my edge as a cartoonist. As the Emperor once said, ‘Your hate has made you strong.’”

Of course, it’s easy to find plenty of hate-monging in the world of politics. Most of it is from the right, but there’s an increasing amount from the left as well. The problem for both sides is that this vitriol is neither incisive nor even entertaining. A big problem with someone like Rush Limbaugh, who fancies himself a wit, is that he doesn’t see himself for the joke that he is. What has made Kreider’s body of work so appealing is that he spent years writing cartoons that focused more on being human than politics, and a large amount of the jokes were at his own expense. Even when he includes himself as a character in his political strips, they are largely self-deprecating. This serves to prick the balloon of the author’s ego and forces us to concentrate on what he’s saying rather than on his persona, which is completely the opposite of what people like Limbaugh do. Furthermore, Kreider is no leftist apologist. He is critical of what he perceives as dopiness and ineffectualness on the left and isn’t afraid to go out of lockstep on a number of issues. His post-9/11 cartoons are downright patriotic (in his own manner, of course—he suggested rebuilding three towers that lit up to say “Kiss My Ass” in different languages) and he also does a nasty cartoon about Ralph Nader.

Kreider’s viciousness gives his work righteous power. But the fact that he’s a superior gag writer and excellent artist is what ultimately makes his work memorable. “How To Draw Political Cartoons” is a primer that takes an absurd drawing (a scientist setting fire to a monkey’s ass as he and his humpbacked assistant laugh manically) and demonstrates that one can easily make a political statement by sticking a label on the monkey that says “employees” or “Israel” or “Palestine”, one on the scientist that says “corporations” or “Israel” or “Palestine”, and one on the lackey that says “government” or “the UN”. Or generically, “you”, “the man” and “society”. Four drawings, all different captions, all excoriating the kind of hackneyed work that would NOT be seen in the book.

Kreider can shock. “Well, Well, Well” is what the Empire State Building is thinking when it sees the World Trade Center is ruined; he ran this a year after 9/11. “Bumper Stickers” features one labeled ‘Heritage Not Hate’ next to a swastika, ruthlessly mocking the slogan usually seen next to confederate battle flags. “After Hours At The Capitol” sees John Ashcroft nervously about to suck on the breast of the statue that he infamously had covered up. Upon Ronald Reagan’s death, we see Kreider corpse-side with a hammer and stake, ready to drive it through Reagan’s heart. His friends drag away a screaming Nancy, one calmly noting “It’s the only way to make sure”. In “The Photos They Won’t Let Us See”, there is a screamingly funny image of Donald Rumsfeld about to eat a kitten.

Another thing that makes this book so effective and hilarious are the aforementioned commentaries. Regarding the last cartoon, which talked about the torture photos from Iraq, he asks “Whatever your views on Iraq, you look at those photos and you have to ask: Would George Washington approve of this? Would Elvis? Would Superman? The fuck no.” Discussing Joe Lieberman in a strip called “Who Wouldn’t You Vote For Over George W Bush?”, he ends a rant by saying “He ought to be marooned on a desert island with a bag of pork cracklin’s, an issue of Black Tail, and a pistol, and left to figure it out for himself”.

It must be said that one thing in Kreider’s favor that most political cartoonists lack is that he has some serious cartooning chops. While a skilled-enough caricaturist, his real strength is in managing to combine realism with stylization that reveals the truth about the individuals depicted. I especially like the way he draws Cheney and Rumsfeld as vaguely crazed, Ashcroft repressed and desperate, and Bush as befuddled. There’s both power and precision in his line that allows him to use a lot of detail while never cluttering up a panel.

I’ll conclude by discussing my two favorite cartoons in the book, entries that sum up his worldview and sense of humor. The first is “George W Bush: International Cock-Block!” We see Kreider in Paris, getting rebuffed by a French woman who says that Americans are “unilateralists” and “preemptive” in bed. A fuming Kreider thinks, “This time, he has gone too far”. Essentially, he’s wondering out loud if Bush’ policies are affecting Americans abroad who are trying to get laid, which is tangential politically but nonetheless hilarious. The other cartoon depicts an Aztec pyramid, atop of which is a high priest who has just ripped the heart out of a human sacrifice. Two men are at the foot of the pyramid, one looking sickened by the sight. The other man, with an expression of total moral certitude, puts his hand on his friend’s shoulder and says “It may not be a perfect system, but it’s still the best one there is.” This cartoon sums up Kreider’s work in a nutshell: a howl against so-called “moral clarity”, suppression of dissent and funny as hell.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Clough fights cancer by day, and writes about comix, college basketball and funky music by night. He is the comics editor of Other magazine and is happy to have published many fine cartoonists. He used to write for Savant and just finished something for idea-bot. He is married to award-winning poet Laura Clough (formerly Jent), with whom he lives in lovely Durham, NC.

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