Comics Time: Feeble Minded Funnies/My Best Pet

Feeble Minded Funnies/My Best Pet

Lane Milburn/Noel Friebert, writers/artists

Closed Caption Comics, December 2009

28 pages

$7

Buy it from CCC

Hey, they can’t all be winners. The overall Closed Caption Comics aesthetic, to the extent that one can be pinpointed, has long appealed to me: handmade, rough-hewn, silkscreened, markmaking shit, the ballyhooed stylistic dead-end of Fort Thunder in action, you know the drill. In particular I’ve become a big fan of Lane Milburn’s mix of muscularly drawn monsters and uncomfortable humor, gags that yuk it up until it’s too late and you realize how black things have gotten. That takes a real precise mind and hand to pull off. That’s not what you get in Feeble Minded Funnies, Milburn’s half of this flipbook minicomic, however. Instead he apes the broad humor and colloquial rhythms of the undergrounds: parodic violence, torrents of obscenities, a hapless protagonist called Pukeball making his way through a disapproving world while narration hammers his satirical plight home, all that sort of thing. It actually got to the point (right around the swipe at an outdated grim’n'gritty superhero stereotype) where I wondered if this isn’t actually a parody of underground comix. You’d have to be a lot meaner to make that sort of thing work, though. Actually, has anyone ever done a really nasty parody of the undergrounds? I could use one. Anyway. Milburn draws the bejesus out of it all–someday I want to sit and just watch how he puts the bodies of one of his goons together on the page–but the stories and jokes his awesome drawings inhabit here fall flat.

On the flipside you have Noel Freibert’s My Best Pet, which is the story of a sociopathic child who tortures his pets to death told in a sort of camp faux-EC mode. Longtime readers of this blog can no doubt imagine my reaction. I really hate being so predictable about animal-cruelty gags–apparently this even came up in the humor-comics panel at SPX when I wasn’t even there–but for real: another cat in the fucking microwave? What is it that people get out of drawing cats being blown up in microwaves? Are there people who enjoy…okay, that’s a loaded term. Are there people who get something out of comics in which cats are blown up in microwaves? These are not rhetorical questions at all, by the way. I’m a person with a very high tolerance, a need even, for nihilistic horror, but this I don’t get. Like I’m fond of saying when I come across this sort of material, I’m okay with it when I feel as though the artist is attempting to elucidate something about cruelty. But the whole point of this comic, and it’s actually quite entertaining in this regard, is that it’s just going through the motions. Friebert depicts the asshole kid’s parents’ discussions about his plight without even bothering to put them on panel–it’s just panel after panel of exposition, like they can barely be arsed to show up and play their role in the strip. That’s very funny. And yet we get the cat’s oblivious mewlings as it’s placed in the microwave and its subsequent screams of pain in painstaking detail. I mean, fuck that, right? I’m not the only one?

11 Responses to Comics Time: Feeble Minded Funnies/My Best Pet

  1. Conor Stechschulte says:

    “The ballyhooed stylistic dead-end of Fort Thunder in action,”

    Do you really believe Fort Thunder to be a “Stylistic dead-end”? I’ve heard those same words said before, was it you?

    That statement just seems so obviously untrue. For better or worse, a huge percentage of young artists working in comics and/or printmaking and/or noise music are still using Fort Thunder as a jumping off point. If it were a “Dead-end” would it still be “in action” after a decade?

    “Actually, has anyone ever done a really nasty parody of the undergrounds? I could use one.”

    See Johnny Ryan’s “Comic Book Holocaust,” right?

  2. Hey Conor–That was sarcasm. Heidi MacDonald called FT that once and I gave her the business for it, and I was borrowing the phrase to use it ironically here. The point is that there’s so much FT-influenced stuff, like CCC, that’s it’s clearly NOT a dead end. Man, I need to realize that not everyone who reads this blog has read every single thing I’ve ever written ever. I should have been clearer–sorry!

  3. Conor Stechschulte says:

    Oh okay. I had remembered reading that phrase a while back and I’m glad we’re on the same page there. I think I do remember reading you giving her a hard time about it but I didn’t remember your name in connection with that. Mea Culpa.

    Beyond that, I’d say both sides of this split book probably deserve a second look. I think both artists are pushing their game forward in interesting ways. I think both comics are more formally inventive than you give them credit for.

  4. Mr. Noel Freibert says:

    Dear Sean,

    I don’t entirely understand your review. It seems that you’ve taken the offensive animal violence “bait” that I’ve thrown, and run with it. Yes, this book includes animal violence (the most explicit of which is displayed on the cover), and there is no moral in this story. I did not make this comic to show you the real life ins and outs of animal abuse, or to critique that. I would see it more as a critique of human/animal nature and parenting culture (if anything), but that’s a stretch. It’s really more a parent’s nightmare. As the writer, I’m trying to push you around, take you on a ride and then without warning kick you out into some strange place. I’m not going to justify any of the content. but…

    I think it’s funny that you picked the cat’s torture out of the three animals to criticize. The rat, no doubt (in my mind), gets the worst of it all. Is it that you can’t relate to a rat? Maybe you don’t see the value of a rat’s life? That is funny. Have you killed a rat before? I have, but this is a discussion for another time… Yes, so the cat gets put in the microwave. I personally don’t get any pleasure out of drawing a cat being blown up in a microwave, in this case it’s used more as an excuse to draw two panels of abstract visual “splatter,” whose caption also reads “splatter,” it’s meant to be amusing, a humorous relation between text and image. What can I say, I love comics. Also I’ll let you in on some behind the scenes info: some of the drawings are inspired by the painter Clyfford Still and the color/shapes that he employees. some quick examples:

    http://www.abstract-art.com/abstraction/l2_Grnfthrs_fldr/g040a_still_1957-d.html

    http://lookintomyowl.com/clyfford-still-unveiled.html

    look at the microwave explosion panels and also my cover image, specifically the “does animal feel pain cube.” I think you’ll see some similarities. This is intentional.

    Yes, this comic is absolute EC worship, but it’s intention is not to simply “go through the motions.” I don’t see it as a parody or faux-EC, but actually influenced by EC. I’m using ideas from those comics and other pre-code comics as a jumping off point to make something new.

    I feel like you barely touched on the formal qualities that I play with in “My Best Pet” except for the “panel after panel of exposition.”

    About the panels of “exposition,” a while ago I read an interview with Al Feldstein were he talked about some of the EC artists getting mad because sometimes they were given so much writing that they barely had room to draw anything in the remaining space. In comics, it is probably best when an image and text compliment each other, working together to create one motion, achieving the experience that is “COMICS.” But, as I’m sure you know, there are many times when no text is used. There are whole books that are “silent” comics. What would the opposite of a silent comic be? (I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this), a comic that is only text. That is partly the point of the exposition panels. I feel that there is no need to show you images, these panels are a narrated flashback sequence, it’s almost as real as someone telling you a story, instead of showing you a video of the actual event. You read it and see it in your mind. At this point in the story I am trying to use this to my advantage, the exposition leaves a great deal of mystery about the “nude man,” allowing me to use a moderate element of surprise when showing him to you later in the flesh. But back to the EC story, if the drawings aren’t communicating as much as the writing, why draw anything? If a panel doesn’t have room for a drawing, why draw? If it isn’t adding to the experience, why do it? To meet some kind of preconceived notion of “completion?” I mean fuck that, right? I’m not the only one?

    Well, that’s enough talk for now. Thank you for your review and your time. I’m glad to have negative feedback regarding “My Best Pet.” Seriously, I just wish I felt some real challenge in your critique.

    Best,

    Mr. Noel Freibert

  5. Hey Noel–

    I understand and respect what you were up to with the story. For me, though, it’s just not enough. There’s a million ways to explore the graphic qualities of splatter or what have you, but choosing to do so by torturing animals to death in the story is a choice, and as a reader I find myself unable, and frankly unwilling, to separate the two as much as you’d like me to. I can’t find it amusing unless I feel like as much attention was paid to the use of this element as to the graphic results it enables.

    I singled out the cat for a few reasons. First, as I implied in the review, I’ve seen a lot of cat-in-the-microwave comics, most recently in Eamon Espey’s Capacity. Second, I have two cats, and I don’t doubt that that makes this sort of thing stand out to me. Third, I was just using it as an example–I didn’t think it necessary to also point out the rat nailed to the board or the dog who drank bleach. Finally, no, I have not killed a rat, nor do I not see the value in a rat’s life. I’m a vegetarian, for what it’s worth.

    As for the text-only stuff, you really don’t need to explain or justify it to me–as I said in the review, I thought it was smart and funny. Meanwhile I really enjoyed your Lovecraft comic on the CCC blog, which seems like a more concentrated experiment in that same text-only vein.

  6. Mr. Noel Freibert says:

    Dear Sean,

    First off, I’m going to apologize for being long winded and really taking this discussion to a very detailed level, and some places that may seem out of bounds, but please bear with me. I’m just trying to be completely clear.

    Initially I felt by this statement:

    “Friebert depicts the asshole kid’s parents’ discussions about his plight without even bothering to put them on panel–it’s just panel after panel of exposition, like they can barely be arsed to show up and play their role in the strip. That’s very funny. And yet we get the cat’s oblivious mewlings as it’s placed in the microwave and its subsequent screams of pain in painstaking detail. I mean, fuck that, right? I’m not the only one?”

    You were saying that, although I “don’t bother” to draw the parents in the panels, I am more than willing to draw a cat being tortured in a microwave in “painstaking detail.” By your review it wasn’t clear to me that you realized that the exposition panels were entirely intentional. I couldn’t tell that you fully appreciated it. It seemed like you were trying to say, Freibert shows you the brutal torture, but doesn’t even bother to draw the people talking and because of that, it’s funny. That’s why i felt the need to beat the point home that everything in the comic is intentional, even the exposition panels.

    Now I know that we’re both on the same page with that topic, and I’m glad.

    By my statement about the explanation of “splatter” and how I think about those panels, I am trying to clarify that the “painstaking detail” (that you described) is really just abstract splatter (but one can argue forever what “abstract” is). I will say that, had I wanted to I could’ve drawn a cat’s mangled body exploding in great detail, or like in Espey’s “Wormdye” I could’ve drawn a recognizable disemboweled cat being pulled out of the microwave. but I chose not to. Mainly for the purposes of the story (Extreme Spoiler Alert!): the boy confuses the “Cat” for “Cat food,” and while putting it in the microwave dubs it “rat food.” You see some splatter on the microwave glass, and the next time you see the cat, it’s literally mush on a plate, it’s food that’s been fed to the rat, which has been nailed to a board as a living endurance experiment, to help Tommy (the boy) understand the boundaries between life and death. I use the cat as a tool for greater things within the story, It’s not simply a boy killing a cat. This is a boy changing an animal from “living” to “dead” and through that change, transforming it into something entirely different: food. This is very important.

    I will say, When drawing these panels I even thought to myself, “this is not very extreme, it sounds extreme, but I could really do something worse to this cat visually. This could be much worse.” I even attempted to show off some restraint in those panels, (mostly: the boy about to hammer the rat panel, and the cat exploding panel), some cinematic suspense, “cutting away” right when you expect to see the wretched bloody body dripping and squirting in your face. Stopping prematurely to let the terrible action, that you know is happening, simmer on the edge of your thoughts. Essentially my intention is to try and make the viewer see these moments in their head, think about them, and it’s probably worse than even I could draw it (maybe Lane could draw it “worser” still, than one can even imagine, all the vein stricken detail), but I’m really just taking you to that place, the second before the terrible moment. I’m Not shoving your nose in the rot, like I sometimes would. and, I want to say that, to be perfectly clear, I take full responsibility for the content, and by this statement above, I’m not trying to displace any blame for the content as being the viewer’s fault, believe me, I am in control. I feel that the drawings in this book are somewhat offensive, but not enough to warrant your reaction. I chose to have helpless animals be tortured in this book. This is my book, this is my story. It’s all me, Mr. Noel Freibert. I’m not sorry, and actually No animals were killed in the making of this book.

    I feel like I’m running in a circle so I’ll take another perspective and say, to support my reason for my use of animal violence (because it doesn’t appeal enough to you on a graphic level) it’s to “challenge” the viewer. From looking quickly around your site i notice that you enjoy horror films. I’m sure you’ve seen “Last House on the Left” or “I Spit on Your Grave.” These are horror films that involve a different challenging topic: Rape. This is a stretch, but at the moment I can’t think of a movie that uses animal violence as a consistent plot point, (Cannibal Holocaust comes to mind, but it has real animal violence, which is an entirely different animal). But I wonder, Would you have the same reaction to these films? That you would be turned off, simply because it involves the subject of rape? Or is animal violence completely different from rape and I can’t make that assumption? I’d imagine that if you hold sympathy for an innocent cat, that you would hold as much, if not more for an innocent human who is the victim of rape, or even worse.

    In both films there are elements of revenge. A group of men do terrible things, then they are punished for it on equally terrible terms. I enjoy these films, but they rely on this weird moral lesson, what goes around comes around. It seems the film makers are saying that it’s ok to have rape in a film, as long as the rapists are killed in the end and justice is dealt on a certain level. Personally, I think that concept is basic and predictable (Conor could get more in depth about this concept, I think there’s a term for it, I know people have written on this subject, maybe he’ll tell me.) I don’t entirely appreciate a story that’s wrapped up neat in a bloody bow at the end, at least not as much as I appreciate something unpredictable, and by unpredictable I’m thinking the Laura Palmer half of the Twin Peaks TV show. Now that is a wild ride. An ending that’s truly shocking and unpredictable. No Justice at all. Not that my book comes anywhere near the magnitude of Twin Peaks, but that show is a great source of inspiration for me. So this brings me to your statement:

    “I’m a person with a very high tolerance, a need even, for nihilistic horror, but this I don’t get. Like I’m fond of saying when I come across this sort of material, I’m okay with it when I feel as though the artist is attempting to elucidate something about cruelty. But the whole point of this comic, and it’s actually quite entertaining in this regard, is that it’s just going through the motions.”

    Do you wish that this story was more along the lines of a “what goes around, comes around” plot? In my head, a plot like that would really be going through “the motions” of EC “Do wrong and Die style.” Which is not at all what my story presents. Is this what you are asking for? I’m probably putting all of that in your mouth. I guess I really wonder… what is an example of a story where an artist “elucidates something about cruelty” that you would approve of? or is it just the simple detail that a cat dies in the microwave, and that specific plot point is cliche and predictable? and hits too close to home because you have cats? Personally, I’ve seen this “cat in microwave” situation in Eamon’s comic, very hilarious, but not another that I can think of at the moment. If it’s over done (no pun intended) I’m interested to see who else is doing it. I know that it’s along the lines of an urban legend, but something that actually happens sometimes. I didn’t realize it was a big topic in comics. Maybe I should go to more SPX panels.

    Thanks in advance for letting me drag you through all of this.

    Best,

    Mr. Noel Freibert

  7. Why did I call Wormdye Capacity? Sheesh.

    Anyway, I haven’t seen Last House or I Spit on Your Grave, for whatever that’s worth. But regardless, I don’t think what we react to in horror is as simple as you’re making it out to be in terms of “if X bothers you more than Z, you care more about X than Z.” Generally speaking I care about human life more than I care about animals, but I can watch murders all the livelong day, whereas animal cruelty I really can’t abide. It’s just one of those things. Nor does it hinge on whether the culprit gets his comeuppance as you ask. I think this is an unjust and cruel world and I like seeing that reflected in art, so I have no need for stories that wrap everything out neat and tidy-like. Like I’ve said, I appreciate everything you’re trying to do–what it comes down to for me is that I really can’t fucking stand animal cruelty, and if you’re going to use it in your art, I want it to be there for a reason in terms of what the comic is trying to say (or movie or book–off the top of my head, American Psycho, It, and The Sopranos handled this well), not just as an excuse to draw something funny or neat or interesting. There are a million ways to draw funny neat interesting things that don’t involve cruelty to animals. It’s a soft spot of mine, I admit–but it’s not something I can be argued out of. I know there are worse things you could have done to these animals–I can think of worse things, too–but at the end of the day, you still nuked one, nailed one, and fed the other one bleach. That’s still rough stuff. And in terms of whether my reaction was warranted, when you work with shocking stuff, people are gonna get shocked, and while you can to a certain extent calibrate the extent of that shock, you just never know when you’re gonna come up against a reader with a real bee in his bonnet about animal cruelty. I’m not saying you’re going “Yay, animal cruelty!” or that you don’t care–I’m just trying to say what I’m looking for in terms of artistic treatment of this topic, and this isn’t it. It happens.

  8. Mr. Noel Freibert says:

    Dear Sean,

    Thanks for your response. I feel that I can see partly from where you are, and hopefully you can see some of where I see. and on this note, let us shake hands, and I’ll say “thank you for the conversation.”

    Until in future we meet.

    Best,

    Mr. Noel Freibert

  9. I also fucked up the spelling of your last name, I’m now noticing. Really covering myself in glory here. :(

    Before I forget, other examples of this I’ve appreciated: Pim & Francie, Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job, Cockbone…

    Yeah, I think we should just agree to disagree. Like I said, it happens! I did love your Lovecraft comic, though, and I’m always excited to see what CCC is up to. I tend to lurk around your table at cons–next time I see y’all I’ll say hello. (Lane recognizes me, so maybe he can make the introduction?)

    Thank you for all the time and attention you’ve given to this discussion. It’s obviously a topic I’ve tried to think about a lot, and I appreciate the opportunity to hash it out with you.

  10. Comics Time: Death Trap

    Death Trap Lane Milburn, writer/artist self-published, April 2010 112 pages $12 Buy it from Lane Milburn It feels good to see someone win a Xeric Grant whose work you’ve already been following, then to discover that the work they…

  11. [...] grateful that in reviewing my contribution with William Cardini, Noel didn’t seek payback for the “cat in the microwave” incident. See, Noel — I told you there was a nicer way to explore splattery [...]

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