Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Hoo Ha

Well, Chinese Bizarro Spider-Man is on his way to his first adventure, courtesy of the United States Postal Service. Where’s he headed? Why, to the wilds of Boston, and a stayover with Jamie Tarquini, AKA Pmpknface. I’m sure he’s going to have a wonderful time. Where’s he headed next? Could it be your town?

Boy, the fact that Alf is back on TV sure makes me sleep better at night. It’s as if some primal injury has been healed, or as if some cosmic injustice has been righted. Many thanks to TV Land for this momentous occasion in human history.

Travels With Larry Part XV

Scurvy Dogs #5

Perhaps I was too harsh on the first bundle of Scurvy Dogs that I reviewed a few weeks back. Sometimes opinions can change – that’s part of what having an open mind entails. Perhaps issue #5 was simply better than the previous issues. Whatever the answer, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Of course, everyone know that "humor is subjective". If you repeat it often enough it becomes a mantra. It has also been used by many critics to cover up the fact that A) they don’t get whatever the humor is, or more likely B) they get it, alright, but they don’t find it funny because it’s cheap, puerile, stupid or vulgar. But regardless, there is so much that goes in to whether or not any particular person will find any particular thing funny that these things are impossible to predict.

For instance, most cheap-gag SNL oriented movies made in the last fifteen or so years leave me cold, but I find Chris Farley and David Spade’s Tommy Boy and the first two Adam Sandler movies quite funny, even after repeated viewings. Of course, you couldn’t pay me enough to get me to sit down and watch Mr. Deeds, but I’ll gladly give him those first two flicks. I loved Cabin Boy, as I have said before, even though the majority of the English speaking world steers as clear of that one as they possibly can.

My wife thinks that Robert Schimmel is the funniest man alive, but I only find him intermittently amusing. I think that Ivan Brunetti is the funniest cartoonist alive, but the one time I tried to get her to read Schizo she said it was the most horrid and disturbing thing she had ever seen. So, different strokes for different folks.

Scurvy Dogs seems to have ensnared quite a few of my fellow bloggers in its briny grip. I always pay attention when events find my opinion to be at odd with common consensus. I haven’t changed my opinion on Wilco yet, but I sure am glad I bothered to give Radiohead another listen after initially dismissing them many years back. Likewise, if enough people say that Scurvy Dogs is funnier than two peglegged monkeys in a cage match, I’ll probably want to reexamine the back with a new set of eyes the next time it crosses my radar.

Sure enough, I found myself quite enjoying the latest issue of Scurvy Dogs. Some of my initial criticism still holds true: Ryan Yount is still not what I would call a master draftsman, not by any means. His very minimal art conveys just enough story to get the meaning of the jokes across. If I was going to recommend any course of action, it would be to spend this coming downtime studying up on some of the cartooning fundamentals that are keeping me from liking Scurvy Dogs as much as, perhaps, I could learn to. By which I mean: draw some damn backgrounds, already. Yeah, they’re hard to draw and stuff, but they can add a considerable bit of heft to any comedic presentation. Like on page four, in the first panel, there’s a potted plant behind the television screen. It’s such a beautifully drawn plant, I wish every panel had a potted plant in it.

But besides that, the fact is that Scurvy Dogs #5 caught me on a good day. For whatever reason, I wanted to laugh, and I found plenty of opportunity herein. My wife got sick of me tapping on her shoulder to show her funny panels. She did not think the microwaved emu gag was nearly as funny as I did.

I think that a great deal of my personal problem with Scurvy Dogs has been the fact that the book is very obviously the product of two fairly intelligent twenty-somethings. Like a lot of intelligent, college-educated folk, they know too much about pop culture – junk culture – and think that laughs can be easily gained just by name-dropping certain obscure cultural references to the right crowd. The fact is, that’s what passes for humor among quite a few lazy young comedians. I don’t think it’s a very strong or smart way to run your comedic career because, frankly, there are only so many people who find Mannix or Thompson Twins references automatically funny. At some point, there need to be actual jokes, not just clever cultural signifiers. Sometimes I laugh at jokes like this, but rarely twice.

I think, over the course of these five issues, I can detect a growing and gradual awareness of this fact on Yount and Boyd’s part. Even if you have no idea who Mickey and Andy Rooney are, the picture of them facing off like aging sumo wrestlers is funny. A pirate beating Gabe Kaplan to within an inch of his life isn’t so funny. A pirate computer is funny, especially with game software like King of Savate and Marion Barry’s Civilization.

Somehow, Yount and Boyd are getting better at hitting my strike zone. I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but they are subtly honing in their skills as both humorists and cartoonists (although their improvement in terms of the latter is lagging behind the former). In any event, whereas previously I just plain didn’t enjoy the book, this time I am happy to say I can offer it my qualified recommendation.

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