I just recently started reading Michael Kupperman’s Snake ‘n’ Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret, an incredibly funny collection of comics that predate the series Tales Designed to Thrizzle (which I’ve mentioned before in this blog). The core of this collection is the team of Snake ‘n’ Bacon, made up of a snake who does nothing but hiss and a piece of bacon that keeps telling us how good he tastes and the many culinary uses he can be put to. The tales of weirdness just spin off and propogate from there. This is Kupperman at his best, and it’s a shame that the animated series based on Snake ‘n’ Bacon never made it beyond the pilot episode on the Cartoon Network. Perhaps Kupperman was too offbeat even for Adult Swim, which is saying a lot. I’m a big fan of Kupperman’s work, and I wrote about his most recent book, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, 1910-2010, back in January. That was a great showcase for his humor, but Kupperman works best in the medium of comics, where words and pictures balance; they demonstrate his wackiness in illustration as well as in written scenario. I can’t wait to finish Snake ‘n’ Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret…as soon as I can find my copy. I misplaced it last week, and for the life of me I can’t remember where I put it.
I mention all of this because picking up Snake ‘n’ Bacon’s got me to thinking about some of the funniest writers in comics today. I came up with what I feel is a triumvirate of unique writers whose sense of humor is paralleled by none. Kupperman is one of those, obviously, and I’m surprised he isn’t more recognized and discussed than he is. Another favorite of mine is Evan Dorkin, creator of Milk and Cheese. The collected hardbound edition of those comics, Milk and Cheese: Dairy Products Gone Bad, just came out late last year and it includes all Milk and Cheese comics from 1989 to 2010. As with Kupperman’s comics, Milk and Cheese strips easily make me laugh out loud…and I’m not talking about a chuckle, but a big guffaw that disturbs my family and scares my dog. The concept is just incredible: a carton of milk and a wedge of cheese, gone bad. They have an attitude, are highly insulting, and reek havoc in every freaky and unlikely and wild scenario they find themselves in. I love them. I even have a Milk and Cheese poster I got a few years ago, a reprint of their “Merv Griffin” strip, where they are running around causing distraction and yelling “Merv Griffin!” It makes no sense, and that’s the reason it’s so hilarious. If you haven’t read any Milk and Cheese, then you don’t know what you’re missing.
A third wonderful writer of weirdly funny and offbeat comics is Tony Millionaire, creator of the Maakies comic strip. His weekly syndicated strip has been collected in several volumes, and any one of them will make you wonder if your own sense of humor is viable. Millionaire’s humor is dark, darker than that of Dorkin’s or Kupperman’s, both of whom seem more interested in breaking the rules of sensibility and sense without necessarily casting a foreboding shadow. The Maakies comics’ Uncle Gabby and Drinky Crow are embodiments of hedonism at its best/worst: drinking, whoring, violence, and even suicide. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I’ve even got a plastic Drinky Crow statue in my study.
As I indicate in the title of this blog posting, I was interested in a triumvirate of contemporary comics humor. However, that is perhaps too limiting. What do you do, for example, with Mark Newgarden? His work is definitely out there, and We All Die Alone is as dark, if not darker, than Millionaire’s comics. Then there is Ruben Bolling’s Tom the Dancing Bug comics, Ben Katchor’s Julius Kniple strips, and Drew Friedman’s incredible caricatures. All great stuff. But the comics artist who stands out among all of these–indeed, I would have included him in this “triumvirate of comics humor,” except he seems to embody an earlier generation of irreverent comic art–is Bill Griffith. I’ve been a big Zippy fan for years and years, and I get every collection of those strips that is released. I also own all of the original copies of The Zippy Quarterly, a comic book that Fantagraphics used to published regularly, and much to my chagrin discontinued so that they could focus on the annual collection. That’s why I was particularly glad when Fantagraphics released Griffith’s Lost and Found: Comics 1969-2003 earlier this year. It’s a collection Griffith’s underground comix, many of which have been out of print for years, as well as much of Griffith’s non-Zippy material since his comix heydays. Zippy is part of this book, sure, but the beauty of this volume is that it shows that Griffith is not a one-trick pony, that his sense of humor (so “well-grounded” in Zippy and his friends) is broader than his daily strip, and that his influence in the history of comics is much deeper than one might think. This is someone, after all, who worked with Art Spiegelman and Kim Deitch on various projects. But for some reason, Griffith doesn’t get the attention or the credit he so richly deserves, at least outside of the Zippy stuff. If you’re interested in keen comic art, biting satire, and a weirdly fascinating sense of humor that is difficult to put your finger on, then Bill Griffith’s work is something you should definitely read.