Comics find humour in everything from pop culture to parenting
A pack of new Drawn and Quarterly releases proves just how wickedly versatile humour is within the comics medium.
The best of the bunch is Lisa Hanawalt’s My Dirty Dumb Eyes , a psychoanalytic grab bag of comics, sketches, movie reviews and other assorted oddities.
Her illustrated review of Steven Spielberg’s War Horse gained some online attention recently, with its mix of awkward personal confession, digressive pop-culture tidbits, observations on how stupid audiences can be, and a sharp critical eye. The other movie reviews are equally hilarious. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a paranoid rumination on why she hates monkeys, while her review of Drive tries to determine where Ryan Gosling’s psychotic character sits on the scale of stoic versus autistic action heroes.
The rest of the pieces combine the same love of the personal and cultural, like a scatological mediation on artistic practice. (Hanawalt’s practice, anyway.) Add a healthy predilection for drawing giant, life-like lizards in lingerie and you have the ideal kind of cartoon collection — something to be randomly dipped into again and again. She notes that alternate titles included Dick Lizards and Boob Dogs: A Memoir and What We Draw About When We Draw About Sex Bugs . Both descriptions are equally apt.
Another collection, Animals With Sharpies , is exactly what it sounds like — animals writing insults, confessions and assorted dumb things with a black Sharpie. If you liked Toronto-based illustrator Graham Roumieu’s bitter and hilarious Bigfoot books, you’ll love this.
The series of one-page painted panels combine the same knuckle-headed comedy (animals have terrible grammar, apparently) with a kind of deeply depressing, Schopenhauerian philosophy. It’s a kid’s book for smarty-pants grown-ups.
That isn’t meant as a backhanded compliment. Like Hanawalt’s collection, Animals is the best kind of cartoon book — less the sum of its parts and more made for maximum flipability. Though there are a few moments that are simply a rumination on “What would an animal say if it could talk,” Canadian creators Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber are more interested in the idea of what you can do with a plain rectangular panel and a Sharpie — everything from simple lines and shading, to jokes, Morse code, lists, scribbles, Bible passages and more.
Tom Gauld’s collected series of snappy and sardonic comic strips, You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack , first appeared in The Guardian , and it’s great to have all of these poisonous little gems in one place.
The Scottish cartoonist’s clean, designer-like style suits the bitter content, with diminutive stick figures, maps and diagrams cataloguing a course of modern failure and disillusionment. It also serves as a deadly attack on artistic pretentiousness, taking shots at just about everyone — critics, writers, musicians and academics. (The title refers to science fiction’s marginalization outside so-called “proper literature.”)
The ghost of Edward Gorey is an obvious presence as well, with many of the strips displaying the same faux-Victorian language and dry, macabre humour. Gauld can be relentlessly depressing, but hilariously so. You’ll want to gorge on the comics, but that might prove to be too much for one sitting.
Finally, Quebec’s Guy Delisle ( Pyongyang , Burma Chronicles ) returns with another autobiographical tale. Unlike his earlier travelogues, A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting is much closer to home, a series of comic strips detailing the gentle hijinks and varied misadventures of fatherhood.
Delisle’s oft-grim sensibility and mischievousness packs a bigger bite here, with his two young children repeatedly falling victim to their father’s twisted sense of humour.
The slim volume offers a different side to Delisle’s cartooning, appearing more like a collection of Sunday morning strips than a graphic novel. It’s a quick read, with the sparse panels and pages racing from joke to joke.
I wouldn’t call Delisle’s approach to parenting neglectful — it’s too involved and witty to be such. It’s traumatic, crass and occasionally cruel, perhaps, but certainly not neglectful.