Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BOOK REVIEW! NUTS (a graphic novel by Gahan Wilson, Fantagraphics, 2011)

Bein' a kid is tough. You knew it when you actually were one but you always got ridiculed for bringing the sordid subject up---kept gettin' called an "ingrate" if you were brave enough to confront your elders on the subject, but as far as I can remember most of us brats kept our mouths shut and suffered in humiliating privacy. As you got older and the past became more in-focus you were positively sure that it was those indignities and horrors during your kiddyhood that made you the grown up sick-o neurotic that you most certainly are! Yeah, all of that talk middle-aged teachers who never seemed to really have childhoods of their own (or when they told you about it made it seem like such a dreadful, dreary existence no matter how hard they tried embellishing it) gave us about how your school days and youth were "the best years of your life" always did seem like a load of hooey, and when you hit your teenage years and were out on the streets or buying records or going to see groups or doing all of those decadent things teenagers used to do ol' Mrs. Cosgrove's third grade pronouncements seemed more and more like the patronizing clapola that you knew it was all along! But back then you were too intimidated to call her out for the Pollyanna-ish opines she was spewing, and besides if you did you'd only get a violent whacking from your father once you got home so like, why bother?

That's why I really like this collection of Gahan Wilson NUTS cartoons that were taken from those alla those old issues of NATIONAL LAMPOON you used to sneak peek at the newsstands. You know, long before the management discovered that this pub wasn't exactly anudder MAD knockoff and started stocking it behind the counter with the rest of those adults only publications! Yeah, I know that in some circles saying that you liked the cartoons in those old NATLAMPs would be akin to standing up in front of the entire 1963 grade school student body and telling 'em your favorite television program was HAZEL but hey, I will admit that I find a whole lot more humor in one episode of THE APPLETONS or (perhaps) TROTS AND BONNIE than I have in the past quarter-century of funny pages espied! And although I never was what'cha'd call a fan and follower of  the once-omnipresent Wilson, these NUTS strips sure do capture the entire addled goofed up misery of childhood existence from the viewpoint of the kidz in question 'stead of from some twenty/thirty year rosy glasses hindsight like most kid strips have. Nothing has really done that since LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, which again  is the total gulcheral antithesis of what liberated people consider conduit to modern thought processes but then again we're talking the real world not Berkeley, and if I wanted to osmose some real fantasy I'd most certainly take a trek there!

Taking the entire concept of childhood nostalgia 'n tossing it out on its ear, the cartoons in NUTS really do lay it out onna freeway as far as all of those indignities and manipulations that alla us kids hadda endure. They remain relevant even to an old turd like myself because NUTS details that eternal struggle between kids who wanna go on at their own pace and enjoy what they want to and when, and having to endure all of the culture and force that the elders deem proper for a well-rounded education and social nurturing. Not surprisingly the latter's what always messes up the kidz...parents toil under the impression that ramming music lessons, the classics and the social graces will make their children sophisticated elites ready to lead the world but more often than not all they get are a buncha hate-filled, angry adults whose minds have been twisted beyond repair or worse yet...Liberace

I gotta say that Wilson's understanding of kidhood and all its travails really does act as a firm counterpoint against the usual sickening sweet remembrances of growing ups past, not to mention what I always assumed parents and teachers thought was best for all of us in that disturbing communal way. Not to forget how more often 'n not it just ruins us and comes back to haunt us 'til our dying day. Summer camp humiliation, mangling accidents, death, physicals and all of the prohibitions against having a good time are all trotted out and put on display as if some War Crimes Tribunal case against "the enemy" was being prepared. But man do these comics hit home because hey, I hadda LIVE THROUGH a good portion of it all so I can tell you just what kind of damage can be done to a kid who ain't left alone and feels like he's being indoctrinated into a Nazi-like cult at every turn throughout his childhood! Only as far as I can tell we kids didn't break the Second Commandment as much as the denizens of Wilson's world do...for us it was mostly the scatalogical post-poopie pee potty mouthisms with an occasional "big" word, ifyaknowaddamean.

But hey, I do tend to ramble on quite a bit. And hey, these NUTS 'toons have really taken to me like lice to scrotum to the point where I'm constantly re-reading 'em during my pre-beddy bye time thus knocking the ARCHIE collection of 1946-48 newspaper strips off the #1 spot on the book hit parade 'round here! Not too many things can live up to something along those lines, which must go to show you that maybe I am in my own strange and twisted way coming to terms with a lotta things that I never thought I would come to terms with in a million years.

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