Comics Time: Wormdye



Eamon Espey, writer/artist

Secret Acres, June 2008

128 pages


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Starting your comic by cooking a live cat in a microwave is a pretty good way to make me say “fuck you, I’m not reading your stupid fucking comic.” I don’t think it’s funny, I don’t think it’s provocative, I don’t think it’s daring, I don’t think it says anything about humankind’s endless reservoir of unthinking cruelty to animals that I haven’t already heard. Mostly it makes me think of the guy on MSNBC’s Lockup who bragged about cooking his murder victim’s cat in the microwave because he didn’t like that it was nibbling on the corpse, or how my high-school biology teacher used to brag about catching stray cats, sticking them in burlap bags, lighting the bags on fire and throwing them off rooftops, and any number of other real, live human beings who think torturing cats to death is really no more unacceptable a misdemeanor than keying someone’s car. I hate them.

I also realize that this is my kryptonite as a critic. Sure, cruelty to animals is an unbelievably easy way to shock–“any idiot can get sympathy from an audience,” George Lucas was once known to say, “just grab a kitten and wring its neck”–and I’d very much like to see cartoonists who deal in the rough stuff try harder, but there’s beyond that there’s probably no principled objection I could make here that I wouldn’t also have to apply to depictions of humankind’s endless reservoir of unthinking cruelty to humans as well. I’m certainly not going to argue that we have to stop doing this because people might imitate it, because those sorts of people are going to be sociopathic monsters anyway and we can’t live our lives that way. I’m simply a vegetarian cat owner who stopped eating meat on cruelty grounds and gets very, very upset about glib depictions of animal cruelty. And I do think it’s pretty glib here, simply playing into the dead-baby joke punchline that closes the opening chapter of Espey’s loosely connected collection of nightmarish short stories and Bosch-like diptychs.

But the book does get better from there, smarter, sharper, more intelligently savage. Espey’s vocabulary as a cartoonist is indeed that one-two punch of cruelty to children and animals coupled with sexualized violence that we’ve seen from Josh Simmons, and to a certain extent Hans Rickheit or even Al Columbia at times. As with Simmons and Rickheit, Espey’s line is a thick thing, deliberately ugly, all hyperthyroidal eyes and short, squat, grotesque figures, occasionally flourishing into what can only be described as bad-acid-trip vistas of depravity. He broadly lampoons every sacred cow in the herd–the Pope, the family farm, childhood, science. He undermines collective-unconscious root storytelling–fairy tales, mythology, primitive religion. to quote The Exorcist, he wants us to see ourselves as animal and ugly, shitting, killing, fucking, torturing, raping, lying, screaming, crying, cowering. His work is effective. Whether it’s an effect you care to experience is perhaps another question.

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