Comics

The Realist Cartoons

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Dick Guindon

It's 1967, and an old woman is handing an "End the Draft" sign to a young man. "Take it, Norbert," she says, "and bear it well: your great-grandfather carried it against the Lincoln administration."

So goes one of the gags collected in The Realist Cartoons (Fantagraphics), an anthology drawn from Paul Krassner's great satiric magazine The Realist. The mag originally ran from 1958 to 1974, with a return engagement in the '80s and '90s; inevitably, some stuff here that once seemed daring now hardly feels bold at all. (Several of the cartoons about religion no longer look particularly brave. And we're long past the days when a four-letter word could carry a joke all by itself.) But the book's best material holds up. In one cartoon, a white liberal decides a civil rights march is the right place to hire a cleaning lady. In another, Woody Allen, having married Soon-Yi, starts doing mother-in-law jokes. One infamous illustration stars the Disney characters in an elaborately detailed orgy.

Some of these cartoons are angry; some are wry. Some critique the country's most powerful institutions; some just seem happy breaking taboos (including, at times, the taboos of the typical Realist reader). They all exude irreverence, just like the journal that published them.