Comics

Friday Mini Book Review: XXX Scumbag Party and Misery Loves Comedy

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The mini book review is on Friday again this week. Past mini book reviews.

XXX Scumbag Party by Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics Books, 2007).

Misery Loves Comedy by Ivan Brunetti (Fantagraphics Books, 2007).

Leading art-comics publisher Fantagraphics' two cartoon bards of offensive trash each issued new collections of their periodicals recently. Johnny Ryan's comic book is Angry Youth; Brunetti's, Schizo.

Johnny Ryan's work—um….well, I can't even really hint at much specific about it and remain within a long city block of propriety and decency. His comics are utterly degenerate and utterly hilarious, with nearly every joke relying on the punching of sexual, excretory, religious, or racial taboos.

I'm sympathetic to those who sneer at "shock comedy" for the sake of shock, but my goodness Ryan's stuff is just…well, it's just really, really, really funny. It pushes transgressive buttons not with grim obviousness, but with a gleefully antic grossness, with cartooning so joyously alive (while still skilled and tight) that it doesn't feel hateful or ugly–just bursting with life-affirming awfulness.

This volume features lots of Ryan's EveryScumbag Loady McGee and hapless sidekick Sinus O'Gynus; the adventures of two sensitive cartoonists who just weren't made for these times trying to out-old-timey each other; an "art movie" featuring (among the only barely mentionable elements) mustard that makes you horny and a robot prostitute powered by liquid baby sent on a mission to give the Moon a venereal disease; and over a hundred pages of gut-busting offensiveness. Pre-caveat: for anyone who reads it and finds any part of it unutterably beyond the pale: I didn't laugh at that part. Just, um, most of the other parts.

Brunetti is more serious about his offensiveness. He's got no antic glee, just anhedonic and troubled self-hatred. Most of the pages star a grotesquely detailed figure of himself spewing bile (figuratively and literally), and stabbing out at everything about civilization, humanity, and himself he despises, including his marriage and office job.

While piece by piece not clearly intended to be "funny" per se he's got that Celine/Notes From Underground classic lit-misanthropy thing going sharply and efficiently, but his cartoon avatar is a more feckless "character" than Bardamu or even Dostoevsky's underground man. Brunetti's misery is purely internalized and poured only into meticulous cartooning.

Sure, it's relentless and repetitive; "I can see all my flaws, magnified into monuments, surrounded by floodlights. I'm a crumbling edifice of frustation, every mistake etches onto me in a garish bas-relief. I'm overwhelmed by every stimulus, so I retreat into introversion and sink into a spiral of suicidal 'logic.' Zen nihilism. All is one, and that one is a pile of shit." That's about what he has to say, for all hundred plus pages. But still, he says it in a surprisingly entertaining way. If you are in the mood for bottomless self- and world-hatred expressed through bilous, vertiginous cartooning, Brunetti's unstoppable.

Ryan, at worst you'll find grossly silly and perhaps feel it your duty as a humanist to be offended; Brunetti can seriously bum you out if you've ever found yourself feeling anything close to what he claims to feel every second of his life. Both of them are excellent cartoonists and together provide opportunity for fun evenings spent (preferably alone) giggling (sometimes nervously) at the abyss.

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  1. Mr. Doherty,

    Human rationality–reason–plays what part in the snickering at someone else’s dark self-loathing and psychic pessimism? If their comedy is an attempt to come to grips with their nihilism, well and good. But for others to pay for the orgy-watching of self-flagellation is….well, it may be many things, but it is not reasonable.

  2. Mr. Doherty,

    Human rationality–reason–plays what part in the snickering at someone else’s dark self-loathing and psychic pessimism? If their comedy is an attempt to come to grips with their nihilism, well and good. But for others to pay for the orgy-watching of self-flagellation is….well, it may be many things, but it is not reasonable.

    It’s a good thing it’s Friday, because that has two DRINK! cues.

  3. Go get laid, duo.

  4. De gustibus non est disputandum.

  5. Did the Free Staters impress Dave Wiegel so much that he dumped Reason and our precious Weekend thread?

  6. OK, these guys are almost as bad as Bill Kristol.

  7. Ranxerox offensive? Over the top can be art.

  8. I read some excerpts from the amazon website. The first is mildly amusing if you’re a high school kid, the 2nd is someone channeling R.Crumb and all his insecurities. Both seem like comic books for angry loners. The only comic book worth reading is “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron”

  9. Sorry Brian. After twenty minutes of surfing, I found a dozen or so samples of Johnny Ryan’s work. I find it all juvenile shock and no funny. I have no idea what your talking about. I could find no hint of craft or wit. It looks exactly like the kind of thing we drew in Jr. High.

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