All-New Comics Spotlight Solitaire

Tales Designed to Thrizzle #1

My penis owes money to gangsters.”

I think that line right there will provide a sufficient (albeit simplified) test to determine whether or not this book and its very special sense of humor is for you. I can offer some alternate choices:

I’m Bambiffpow Jackson - there’s a fistfight in my very name!”


A zebra is like a horse that’s real stripey. You know who likes stripey things? Women! My ex-wife sure did. And jewels. I bet if she had a zebra with jewels all over it, that’d make her happy, if anything could.”

That last quote is from a half-page feature titled “Uncle Billy’s Drunken, Bitter Guide to the Animal Kingdom,” and maybe I could have just given you the title to the same effect. Needless to say, if you’re sniggering right now, it looks like you’ve got another $4.50 you need to be spending post haste.

Michael Kupperman is one of those creators I’m always looking out for. Ever since obtaining my treasured copy of his (as of 2000) collected works, Snake ’n Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret, I’ve been moved to seek out anything and everything by this strange and precious talent. Kupperman’s style of humor can be slightly difficult at first, often relying on alternatingly stiff and cutesy visual styles to fuel his absurd, occasionally non-sequitur gags (hence my declaration that mere quotes cannot totally judge your reaction to his work). And he definitely knows not to wear out his welcome, with most of his stories clocking in at only one or two pages, or even less.

This is Kupperman’s first solo book in a while, an ad-free 32-page pamphlet in black, white, and blue. Not all of the material is new; I recognized pieces from magazines such as The Believer and books like 2002’s Rosetta: A Comics Anthology. But almost everything fits, if only because Kupperman’s humor concerns are so thoroughly individual; aside from appearances from the titular serpent and strip of meat duo, Snake ’n Bacon fans will also find plenty of references to Sex Blimps and inappropriate team-ups among historic characters. Perhaps such familiarity is a little too much; I simply didn’t find a lot of this material quite as funny this time around, probably because I was stripped of the initial shock of being dumped into Kupperman’s world. The appearance of cube-obsessed Pablo Picasso just doesn’t have the same kick the second or third time, even if he’s chasing a giant talking hamburger down the street; it’s like arriving home instead of veering off into an odd new world.

Still, there’s a lot of laughs in here. The book is structured into three segments of 10-12 pages each, one for Adults, one for Kids, and one for Old People. Amusingly, Kupperman relegates his more visually experimental pieces to the old folk’s chapter, suddenly breaking from his knowing awkwardness to explore chiaroscuro cityscapes and art deco profiles, the hammer-blow of his humor leavened by unexpectedly straightforward visual aplomb. There’s a joke about catching a film program in the 1930’s for only a nickel and being treated to a newsreel, a feature, and cartoon, and much more - except this theater projects them all at once. And our vision of such, a mangled mass of Mickey Mouse ears and detectives and documentary trains (and yes, a snake) is almost as overwhelming to the reader as it is to the story’s narrator. And even in less-mannered moments, Kupperman’s chops really stand out. The introductory page to the 'Kids' section features a boy and a girl with the most luxuriously dismayed expressions on their faces, eyes that speak volumes, even though they’re being stalked by a hot air balloon bearing a white rabbit and a maiden sorceress and other cloying characters.

Other pieces (and nothing in this book is longer than four pages) are more immediately funny, if occasionally dated in bare concept. The title of this book itself isn’t exactly the freshest gag, as I've pointed out before, and a jocular appearance by an unemployed Mickey Rourke doesn’t exactly land anymore, even if he’s selling Pubic Hair Stencils For Men, with such models as ‘Zombie Nightmare’ and ‘Death of a Bullfighter’ (“This one I started as a novel, then I realized the story would work better within the medium of pubic hair.”). But even some of the moldier bits, like a (*groan*)boy band take-off, manage to attain a level of lunacy so inspired that the storied origins of the fixed targets hardly matter; the book is a bit like the similarly-positioned Flaming Carrot Comics, though I think Kupperman is frankly better than Bob Burden at wringing new humor out of old targets, even tapping a second stream of laffs by pressing clichéd concerns into the realm of the totally inappropriate. The Backstreet Boys aren’t very funny on their own these days, but the Backstreet Boys getting mixed up with Jesus Christ‘s evil half-brother Pagus (the Pagan Jesus), who‘s designed like a clear-line Hanna-Barbera villain? That’s a lot better.

So yes, I urge you to look into this fine book. There’s even an awesome climactic fight scene, in which a pair of cowboys cannot decide on whether comics are serious literature, so they agree to debate the issue - with their fists! It’s the sort of thing to make a reader feel that this crazy medium is all right sometimes, a notion I get quite often from Kupperman’s work.