Bob's Comics Reviews May 1997 Arrows


Max Cannon: Red Meat
There's now a Red Meat collection, helpfully subtitled "a collection of RED MEAT cartoons", in case the wild-eyed apparition on the cover didn't provide a clue that this is not The Family Circus.

Ersatz Meat: the drawing is real Cannon, but the captions are one of my contributions (as Horselover Fat) to Søren Ragsdale's Red Meat Construction Set.)

Rather like Sylvia, Cannon seems to use the same drawing over and over-- slick, meticulous drawings, repeated with only minor variations from frame to frame and from week to week. The writing, however, shimmers. Or, more precisely, gleams with a creepy radioactive glow.

Unshaven guy: Father, I got a serious problem. Sometimes I like to go down to the gym and watch guys working out, and well, I kind of get... um, you know... excited by it.
Priest: Hmmm... I see.
Priest: Where exactly is this... gym?

Cannon's formula is basically to make a sick joke, and then add something sicker on top of it.

Earl (the bug-eyed guy): Jeez. The other day it was really hot. I guess I must've had heat stroke because I got real woozy and threw up, so I decided I better take off my clothes and lay down for a little while.
(silent panel)
Earl: It didn't help, though... the bus driver made me get out at the very next stop.
Then there's Ted, the jaunty, dysfunctional father; alky cop Stiff Stacy, and the sociopathic Milkman Dan. Some explanation for all this may be found in the fact that Cannon's father was a military man. That tends to mess with kids' minds.

This kind of humor doesn't always come off, but Cannon has a way with it, all the more effective for being accomplished almost entirely with language-- he very rarely shows something gross. (Now, what does it tell about me that I like both Red Meat and Mutts?

Robert Crumb: My Troubles with Women; America; Self-Loathing Comics, etc.
I used to think of Crumb as a '60s icon held up largely by nostalgia; and indeed, his '60s stuff is a mixed bag. A Mr. Natural comic I have seems just ponderous, especially in comparison to the yux and commentary packed into a single page of Gilbert Shelton's Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Fritz the Cat is pretty funny, however; a spirited evocation of both the hedonism and the bullshit of the '60s.

But my estimation of Crumb has been steadily rising. He can be a helluva artist when he chooses. No one can beat him at drawing old people and frumps; but he can draw beautiful women, too. His illustrations of Harvey Pekar's stories are some of his best work (and suits Pekar's low-rent autobiographical stuff better than most of Pekar's other artists).

One thing I was highly impressed with in the movie Crumb was his photo album of streetscapes. Till seeing this, I hadn't realized how carefully he draws all those ugly telephone poles, overhead wires, transformers, and nameless bits of mechanical junk that litter the American landscape. See his "A Short History of America" for an example.

Then there's the wacky sexual stuff (see especially My Troubles with Women). I bet Roberta Gregory doesn't talk to him much at the Fantagraphics Christmas party. Crumb falls squarely in that slice of time between the censorship of the '50s,when brutal explotation of women couldn't be shown, and the feminism of the '70s, when it became uncool. Well, feminist orthodoxy is no more beautiful or honest than the religious kind; Crumb is at least honest about what turns him on, and supplies enough self-loathing that none from others seems necessary. (Schizo #2 includes a letter from Crumb trying to cheer up Ivan Brunetti. There's a comics moment to treasure.)

Somebody should hook him up with Pat Califia, so he could learn that he's not such a perv after all... So he has a fixation on the temporary sexual domination of powerful women-- well, whatever floats your boat. He's a hell of a lot less creepy than Crepax or Dave Sim. His view of women being attracted chiefly by power is obviously an overprojection from high school life... but it's not just paranoia; he might have come up with the same thing reading Marvin Harris and Jane Goodall.

His satirical stuff is hit-or-miss. I don't know that he has any real insights about America, so it generally comes off as kvetching. His "Ruff-Tuff Cream Puffs" (in Robert Crumb's America) is very effective; so, in a rather different way, are his stories on Jews and blacks in the same volume. You can't exactly maintain that he doesn't have a racist bone in his body. But, well, Crumb is an artist who shows you his id in all its gristly splendor; it rather misses the point to complain that the vision isn't pretty. People are going to be reading Robert Crumb in two hundred years, as we look at Rowlandson or Hogarth, to see how 20th century people really thought.

You could even argue, if you were in need of a dissertation topic or something, that since 20th century American literature has largely abandoned the field of social criticism in favor of a detailed examination of the authorial navel, that the only genres allowing artists to critically examine the structure and social types of their own society are comics and science fiction.

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