Thursday, February 06, 2014

BOOK REVIEW! RAY AND JOE, THE STORY OF A MAN AND HIS DEAD FRIEND by Charles Rodrigues (Fantagraphics, 2013)

I've often said that there's nothing funny being said or done anymore, and for the most part I am right! Oh yeah, I can have a good hearty chuckle over the corpse of some jerkoff who did me wrong in school, or maybe even do a li'l chortlin' when I see some little kid slip on the ice and break his neck (and if you can't laugh at paraplegics who can you laugh at?), but other'n that all I gotta say is that the twenty-first century has turned out to be about as har-de-har-har as a weekend in the county lock up sharing a cell with a guy named Le'Angelo. I blame it all on the likes of Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory, "comedians" who were just unfunny comics who did nothing but blab and yell about how everything but their own sad and sordid selves was responsible for the so-called woes of the world. If you think the likes of Bill Maher and Sarah Silverman are pathetic non-guffaw-inducing self-important shills for the New Regime just take a whiff of Bruce's corpse for the disgusto root of it all.

This disturbing fact is undoubtedly why when I do come across something funny these days it's either over thirty years old or so socially scathing (some may call it "racist" even if there isn't a race angle to it---words like that usually do have them button-pushing results with your standard bleedheart types who see Klansmen under the bed) that one would wonder if such humor would ever be allowed to be published in these culturally stilted times. Not surprisingly, much of the scathing humor that I do come in contact with can be up to fifty years old, if not older which does say something about just how much humor has devolved to the point where an entire industry can malign the sensibilities of your average ethnic blue collar taxpayer, but if you even dare point out the hypocrisy of the entire gay rights movement...thar HE blows!.

For example, some of the items in a satire mag like HELP! may have passed the muster in the early sixties, though nowadays a photo of a dead First Nations type o' guy with an old cavalry soldier remarking "Well, at least he's a good Indian" comes off so offensive to prickly types I can't help but laugh even harder than I would have way back when. Ditto another HELP! "fumetti" showing a panic stricken scene at a beach with a cartoon bubble reading "A Negro just went in the water"...now that's something that would have gotten both the phony intellectual college students and the black-loathing populace laughing their heads off, each somehow thinking that the folks at HELP! were actually on "their side" given the humorous ambiguity of it all!!!!

In the seventies the NATIONAL LAMPOONs were just flying off the shelves being offensive to patrons of all socio/politico/ethno persuasions, something that would be corroborated by the fact that many of the contributors to the rag weren't as politically pious as we might have been originally led to believe. I really do find it hard to fathom that such a magazine would be allowed to exist these days at least in its seventies form, or at least with them poking fun at the Brahmans of modern leftitude the way comedy figures continually snarl at the more traditional, hard working aspects of our current society while giving their own pathetic selves a pass.

Cartoonist Charles Rodrigues was one of the mainstays at the 'POON throughout the mag's entire run, and the man's penchant for tasteless, gross and at times downright offensive (to the kinda people I like to see squirm) submissions really knew no bounds. Whereas other "new" cartoonists skipped and flirted around their subject matter to the point where people wondered what the point was, Rodrigues attacked almost everything with a total frothing disgust! The "right" things were not sacred to the man, and in today's precious petunia clime Rodrigues' objects of scorn from coma victims, cripples and fartsters to fags and ethnic minorities would certainly earn him a place of particular cartoonist-non-gratis among the current purveyors of taste and get-along.

Needless to say, I'm kinda surprised this book was even allowed to exist in the first place, and RAY AND JOE, THE STORY OF A MAN AND HIS DEAD FRIEND is sure a grand thing to have at least until the government begins burning old copies of the 'POON just because of their abilities to bruise the sensibilities of your average fifteen-year-old mixed-race homosexual amputee victim. I kinda get the idea's on the back burner once the new kulturkampf gets into high gear sometime inna twenties, so until then enjoy, and I do hope that you are offended.

RAY AND JOE ain't a complete Rodrigues collection...you can find two early non-'POON paperbacks featuring work for various titmags and STEREO REVIEW easily enough via ebay,  but it's by far the best. Incomplete true (the scathing "Hire the Handicapped" and "Goddamn Faggots!" are conspicuously missing), but it's got a choice enough selection of Rodrigues' 'POON work gathered making for a fine one-place to sit down and read his tasteless but tasty work without having to scamper through old issues. And of course I love it what with the no-holds-barred humor that actually makes me laugh ("in there"---pointing to throat) rather than wince. Even when I do wince it's a good wince, the kind that makes me kinda glad that I at least lived through the seventies when snide humor was at its offensive height and we didn't have to feel sorry for the man who was beating us senseless while robbing us blind, and that out privilege was something that was earned 'stead of handed out like food in a breadline.

The entire "Ray and Joe" series naturally appears and it's a pretty good 'un, especially since Rodrigues was able to get a whole lotta comics outta the premise of a guy who keeps his dead friend around (this being a friendship that lasts beyond death itself). It might not seem so funny to you, and in fact the entire premise is probably withering away right before your eyes, but Rodrigues knew how to make a seemingly lame gag go a long way, perhaps even longer than other bad-taste mongers like the MONTY PYTHON folk could have done with a similar theme. Everything from embalming to carting dead Joe around the place is brought up, and dang it but Rodrigues really had a knack for taking a disgusting situation and making it his own! And speaking of sick-sick-sick, one of the series' highlights includes the discovery of a tapeworm in Joe which really does make Ray happy, as if somehow, part of Joe was still alive!

Of course "Ray and Joe" ain't the only continuing comics to appear in this collection...there's also the sad tale of Deidre Callahan, the world's ugliest girl who becomes even uglier after a plastic surgery botch up, the Aesop Brothers (conjoined twins in a variety of high-larious adventures), Sam DeGroot ("the free world's BEST private detective in an iron lung machine," later on "one of 36 private detectives in the free world in a coma") and a variety of one-offs and other sundries, "The Man Without a County" being one of my personal favorites. 

Rodrigues' methods of cartooning were a whole lot freer'n anyone else on the legit scene that I've seen, and if the guy didn't quite like where his story was going he would either stop it mid-page and come up with an all-new title, or at one point appear himself in the strip and shoot everybody! Pretty neat hunh?, even though the same tactics would just emit a yawn from me if some current practitioner of the form were to try the same tactics in some "free weekly" outlet or web page jagoff. The cartoon directly above is just one good example of what Rodrigues would come up with when the story ideas just weren't flowing or perhaps he just had a fuggit attitude towards the particular comic, or maybe even a fuggit attitude towards you the reader! 'n all I gotta say is that the resultant spew is what I would call pure comic genius perhaps a few steps in the tasteless direction from one of those old NANCY comics where Ernie Bushmiller would be so lazy he'd present solid black and white panels featuring his characters either in a dark room or a snowstorm.

And as far as shaggy dog sagas go, Rodrigues was the master leading you up to a story-changing conclusion only to find out that the mystery person at the door who was about to change the course of the Aesop Brothers' destiny was in reality some old lady from upstairs returning a borrowed saucepan.

One more important thing I will say about Rodrigues' keen appraisal of post-Cool Life Amerigan living is that he really knew his subject matter well! Or at least he was able to capture a certain segment of mid-Amerigan living that might seem a whole lot closer to the truth than the dystopian mirage of today's socially astute seers. Take the following cartoon which seems to mirror the existence of more'n a few regular BLOG TO COMM readers (although certain wags would have it as me being the pampered pooch of a son!) who probably wouldn't be ashamed of admitting they live this way! (Though the final panel is reminiscent of the time when I was four and THE BARNEY BEAN SHOW was coming on the air and I hadda go number two as well, so mom left the bathroom door open, tilted the tee-vee and cranked up the volume disgusting my sister to no end!)



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