Comics Time: Ho!



Ivan Brunetti, writer/artist

Fantagraphics, 2009

112 pages, hardcover


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I didn’t laugh once while reading this book. Weird, right? The status of Brunetti’s previous gag-cartoon collections Haw! and Hee! (from which Ho! is largely compiled, though whether as a best-of or a complete collection is unclear to me) as trailblazers in the realm of going-way-too-far comic-book comedy is unquestioned; Brunetti made his bones while Johnny Ryan was picking up cheerleaders. And generally speaking, I’m down for the rough chuckles. In comics terms, I obviously really like Ryan and the astonishingly black comedy (or comic blackness) of Josh Simmons. Meanwhile, my favorite Monty Python movie is the nihilistic Meaning of Life, and among my favorite Tim & Eric sketches are the savagely misogynistic Carol & Mr. Henderson bits, Steve Mahanahan’s Child Clown Outlet, the Lynchian vignette where Casey Tatum gets kidnapped by Mahanahan and vomits in terror, and the “Business Hugs” video in which Leland Palmer instructs us on the best way to comfort a man after his wife suffers her third miscarriage. This shit should be right down my alley.

So what happened? It’s difficult to say why something you don’t find funny isn’t funny to you, particularly in a case like this, where Brunetti is intentionally working with material a lot of people would find anything but funny. But I’m not on their wavelength–it’s not the extreme nature of the gags (and they get fucking extreme) that’s turning me off. I suppose it’s the disconnect between the material and the execution? Brunetti’s impeccable line looks like it’d be more at home in the pages of The New Yorker than Sleazy Slice, which I imagine is the point, but for me at least, this just neuters all but the most vicious jokes–otherwise it’s just a litany of beautifully drawn dick/poop/pedo jokes. One that has likely been robbed of much of its power to shock and entertain by the similar work of Johnny Ryan, whose more buoyant, energetic line and use of the more expansive strip form rather than the one-panel cartoon gives his midnight-black gross-out stuff a brio Brunetti lacks.

To be sure, Brunetti occasionally serves up an amusing twist or wrinkle to the calvacade of horrors. I’m particularly smitten with the gag where a man’s wife walks in on him and the dog in flagrante delicto thanks to his strategic use of frosting; the guy’s sidelong glance and pause for thought before attempting to act shocked (“Um…Bad doggie! Bad doggie!”) is a hoot. The new comics Brunetti includes in the back of the book, drawn in his current, even more simplified style, are a fine show case of his geometric character designs, all round heads and curvilinear arms. For my money, the best jokes are barely jokes at all, but rather virtually unfiltered violence and rage: A man waving goodbye to his baby as he fills its bath with acid, another man shooting a woman in the head and barking “NOW you look sexy, whore,” a pair of men sitting in a bathtub filled with the blood of the dead woman hanging from a meathook above them and agreeing that this is better than sex. It’s enough to make you wonder if the gag cartoon’s potential for horror has ever been fully explored.

But in general? Eh!

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