Comics

Friday Mini Book Review: Most Outrageous

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See a bunch of old mini book reviews.

Most Outrageous: The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsley and Chester the Molester by Bob Levin (Fantagraphics Books, 2008). An even, calm, and sane book about a wild, empassioned, and nutty subject: Hustler cartoonist and editor Dwaine Tinsley and his trial for allegedly sexually abusing his daughter. Author Bob Levin loves doing detailed reporting from the world of cartooning that the rest of the world, to its undoubted relief, ignores. (See his December 2004 reason cover story on a gang of underground cartoonists' war with Disney.)

This one has fewer heroes and no happy endings; as Levin puts it in the introduction, after his first interview with Tinsley's ex-wife, "I saw pain and tragedy dripping from this tale like Spanish moss." It's a biography of a creator of (to this reader) mostly witless and ugly porn cartoons intended by Tinsley to be, in his own words, bricks through society's windows, so he could "get a kick out of watching them scurry like rats" who finds himself in court in Simi Valley, California, for allegedly being the very thing he drew cartoons about: a child molester–in this case, of his own daughter.

Levin tells the story carefully and despite it all having wrapped up over a decade ago, manages to make it read like a procedural suspense tale so I'll try to avoid spoilers here. In addition to telling the story of Tinsley's life and trial with great detail and admirable fairness to the facts as the public record and his reporting could ascertain them, this fascinating book also works somewhat as a mini-history of Hustler itself; a thoughtful meditation on the role and purpose of offensive satire, in cartoon form and out of it; a case study in the damagingly roiling wake of divorce and broken families; and a mini-cultural history of child abuse scares in the 1980s. The book is simultaneously bracing and calm, and an apt marriage of story and reportorial mind. Levin is always worth reading, and with Tinsley he found a story dark, complicated, and strange enough to get him working consistently in the top of his range.

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