Thursday, October 15, 2009

He's Bringing Funny Back

Tales Designed to Thrizzle, by Michael Kupperman, Fantagraphics, 2009
(*click on all these pix to see them bigger)
(**yeah, Cleland, the shit was free. suck it!)

Somewhere between the publication of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and the retirement of Bill Waterson, the funny pages died. A few sheets of corporate wasteland occupy your Sunday comics section with barely a chuckle to be heard, while the closest thing you can find that could charitably be described as a funny book are Archie Comics, running on wheezes that were tired in 1960. What's mostly left is derivation in four color and grim-faced anti-superheroes angsting up the scenery.

Hallelujah then for Michael Kupperman! He returns with his second collection, Tales Designed to Thrizzle Vol. 1, which brings under one cover the first four issues of the same-named comic. And comic it sure as hell is. I'm not entirely certain when I've read anything that made me laugh out loud as often as this volume, with the possible exception of Kupperman's debut Snake 'n' Bacon's Cartoon Caberet. Women who've given birth to multiple children and older readers are advised to secure some kind of adult diaper.

While the earlier book was entirely black and white, much like the individual issues of Thrizzle, for this collection Kupperman has done gone and colorized his classics. Where Snake 'n' Bacon had a looseness to it, gags showing up on one page not returning til twenty pages later, and its cast of regular characters, Thrizzle has a much more cohesive feel. There's a structure -- of sorts -- to the whole enterprise, stories are longer and each reprinted issue is broken up into an adult section, a children's section, and an old people's section, though I've yet to determine any meaningful distinction for all that.

The resulting product reads more like boys' magazines from decades past with their mix of comics, prose stories, and advertisements woven in between articles, running down one whole column, or tucked away wherever a spare bit of space presented it. Scroll through Kupperman's TwitPic archives and you'll find that it was just these 1950s mens' and boys' magazines with their eclectic mix of self-improvement, thrilling adventure, sexual titillation, and anti-commie paranoias that inspire the author.

Such material gives Kupperman free reign to try out whichever style of illustration or story suits his fancy. There are charcoal style illustrated stories like the absurdist "Tommy Learns About Harbors" then there's the pistol packing police thriller featuring Albert Einstein and Mark Twain in Silver Age comics style. We're also treated to cameos from Snake 'n' Bacon (for those not in the know, a duo that is literally a piece of bacon and a snake), Sex Blimps, Cousin Grandpa, Dick Crazy, the Manister (a superhero who turns into a banister) and more from Kupperman's first book.

And every so often, Pagus, Jesus' half brother shows up to laugh and teach us about colored eggs.

Sandwiched in between all this glorious, hilarious nonsense, Kupperman finds room for more bizarre fun, lampooning old style magazine ads. Issues are replete with full page ads for things like 4-Playo 3000, the robot that performs foreplay on your wife, leaving you time to do important things like work on your Lyndon Johnson biography.

Or how about Baby Poop'n'Tell's ad which features such telling testimonials like "We've had to move out of our house because of Baby Poop'n'Tell" and "Aside from the constant stream of poop, her shrill, high-pitched voice announcing every fresh poop is making it impossible for me to sleep." Kupperman gets off a few lovely gags here for these products, a little dig at the ridiculous coupons that used to run in comic books where you were instructed to fill it out and answer "Yes" if you wanted the product and "No" if you did not. What was the point of filling out no? Kupperman wonders too, in increasingly alarmed and amused fashion.

Kuppmerman takes culture, high, low, and in between, and he runs it through a shredder, dropping comedy that pivots instantaneously from Shakespeare to a copywriter who can't stop swearing in his advertisements to a Virtual Sitz Bath video game ("all the excitement of an actual sitz bath"). It's an absurdist romp through Western cultural references with Kupperman as your guide.

And every page is full of one laugh more bizarrely induced then the last. What can you do with the completely serious illustration for "Modern Chimp Barbering Romance"? Or Mickey Rourke pitching pubic hair stencils? Or Henry Winkler as The Fonz making a guest appearance in a classic porno coloring book? It's these lovely juxtapositions of the unexpected and the unpredictable that makes Thrizzle such a gut-wrenching exercise in belly laughs. The jokes are absurd, but even better than that, they're funny. Really and truly, "hey-I-gotta-show-you-this" funny.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta show you this:

1 comment:

FlamingAtheist said...

Looks like something I'd like. I'm sure you've seen Perry Bible Fellowship (, not as long form but still fun with different drawing styles and absurd humor.