In Ecclesiastes it says: "Everything has its time." You know: "A time to be born, and a time to die," etc. So, for instance, there's a time for reading The New Yorker and a time for spraying milk out of your nose laughing at poo-poo jokes. I'm here today to proselytize about the latter, sisters and brothers. Specifically, I want to talk about five comics for the almost mature adult in us all. These are the frosting side of graphic literature, so check your refinements at the door.
Big Trouble in Little China Escape From New York
By: Greg Pak/Daniel Baylis
First is Greg Pak's Big Trouble in Little China Escape from New York. This title isn't "technically" an adult comic. It's age-rated 15+. I have included it because when I saw the title, I squeed like a Japanese schoolgirl at a baby raccoon convention. If you had a similar reaction to seeing this mashup, it's likely because you're old enough to have seen these movies in the theater, which makes you an adult. Technically. Therefore, ipso facto, Q.E.D., abracadabra: adult comic. Trust me. It's totally legit logic. I majored in philosophy.
(The squee, on the other hand, makes you a hapless dork, just like me, but that's neither here nor there.)
This comic has a paper-thin plot with holes like a sieve. But it's got Snake Plissken and Jack Burton. That's dual Tennessee Top Hat (mullet if'n you don't know the jargon)-coiffed Kurt Russells, man. Two of John Carpenter's bad-assed leading men. And if that's not enough, Lo Pan is back from the dead, sort of. There's also an alternative-universe Wang Chi who helps our heroes, and they need all the help they can get. They have to fight an army of alternative universes' Snake Plisskens — a literal snake Snake Plissken; a cyborg Snake Plissken; a wolf with a minigun strapped to his side Snake Plissken, et al.
I mean, come on! All that Plissken will put fuzz on your chewing gum.
While it's far from what the art form is capable of, Big Trouble in Little China Escape from New York is a really fun romp to get you started on the alternative comic path. The whole story is told in a six-issue run that takes about an hour to read, even if you take your time to look at the pictures. And remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like this: "Would you stop rubbing your body up against mine, because I can't concentrate when you do that."
By Eric Powell
Publisher: Dark Horse
Next up is Eric Powell's The Goon. This is more of a mainstream comic, and again 15+, but it gets a spot on the list because it is a wonderfully weird hodgepodge of genres that pushes that young-adult/adult boundary. It is a noir/crime/horror/comedy set in the '30s/'40s somewhere in northeast America — New York, New Jersey. At times it feels rockabilly, at times working-class British, at others old-timey wise guy. While this might make it seem schizophrenic and chaotic, somehow The Goon works out perfectly.
It follows the exploits of Goon (duh!), a gorilla-size thug, and his fast-talking sidekick, Franky. They're not necessarily the good guys, but they have a code that is respectable and they live by it. In a world of zombies, mutants, fish monsters, giant squids and voodoo priests (all citizens, not evil monsters necessarily), Goon and Franky are about as saintly as one gets. That's taking into account that they are a couple of violent thugs who partake in some shady dealings.
At the end of the day, Goon is just another regular schmuck, bellying up to the bar and quietly drinking his beer, while Franky daydreams about dames or the spoils of their most recent adventure. A good number of the comics have been collected in trade paperbacks that are 150(ish) pages long and take an afternoon to read, especially if you take time to appreciate Powell's art, which you are going to want to do. While you can jump in just about anywhere without worry about getting lost, it's worth starting at the beginning with The Goon Vol. 1: Nothin' But Misery.
God Hates Astronauts
By: Ryan Browne
Next is Ryan Browne's God Hates Astronauts. What could God possibly have against astronauts, you ask? No idea. Browne's sci-fi comedy never answers that question, but it doesn't need to. Once you start down the absurd road, you never have a chance, nor do you want, to answer the titular mystery.
God Hates Astronauts centers on the exploits of the Power Persons Five — Star Fighter, Starrior, The Impossible, The Anti-Mugger and Craymok — an incompetent superhero group chartered by NASA to keep farmers from launching homemade rockets into space. No, not the explosive kind used in military conflicts; rockets as in spacecraft.
Well, that's just the setup. While there are a couple of panels that deal with rogue astronaut farmers, mostly the story focuses on the Jerry Springer-esque high jinks of the dysfunctional Power Persons Five. Volume 1 is all about Star Fighter's head swelling to gargantuan size after a fight with John L. Sullivan, which results in matrimonial problems for Star Fighter and Starrior (his wife). Without giving the plot away, all hell breaks loose, putting not only the team in jeopardy, but also the world — because of the rogue farmer astronauts mentioned earlier. Who'd have thought renegade farmer astronauts would be such a problem?
(NASA, that's who. The agency is really doing important work, people, which is why it needs its funding restored, posthaste! But that's for yet another article.)
The comic is packed full of puns — a criminal organization of owls, Owl Qaeda, is led by Owl Capone; pop culture references — Star Fighter shouts, "You're tearing me apart, Shelley!" a line from the B movie The Room; and crazy characters like King Tiger Eating a Cheesebuger, who is a humanoid tiger who is a king eating a cheeseburger. Each page is Monty Python's "and now for something completely different" cranked up to 11.
God Hates Astronauts is a hilarious satire that is one part Family Guy, one part Salvador Dalí and Tennessee White Lightning all mixed up in Maw-Maw's 44-ounce Big Gulp. All the comics so far (fingers crossed there are more coming) have been collected into trade paperbacks. There are three volumes, each at about 180 pages, and each will take you a day or so to read. These are slower going than the others because there is so much packed into them. There are references galore, lists of suggested voice talents for each character to help you "hear" their dialogue, and little details sprinkled throughout to reward the careful reader in the art. And, all that aside, Browne's art is really good, so you'll want to luxuriate in it rather than race through, even though Star Fighter's fat head is quite disgusting. Ugh.
Itty Bitty Bunnies in Rainbow Pixie Candy Land
By: Dean Rankine
Publisher: Action Lab - Danger Zone
Then there's Dean Rankine's sweet little Phil (peach-colored) and Tyrone (pink-colored), the diminutive bunnies of Itty Bitty Bunnies in Rainbow Pixie Candy Land. They are cute and playful and have tiny...little...is that their...
Oh. My. GAWD!
They are definitely...boys.
Drawn with anatomically correct dumb sticks and balloon knots, the itty-bitty bunnies are Fart Factor Five on the poo-poo humor scale. Their adventures take place in whimsical Rainbow Pixie Candy Land, but their goals are drug- and sex-fueled romps that Hunter S. Thompson would approve of.
I'll admit the comic is mostly gratuitous, though one episode did put it all in a perspective I never would have considered. In it, Phil walks us through a day in Rainbow Pixie Candy Land. See, what you have to realize is that everything is alive. Each and every little thing, with big, blinky doe eyes, is a living being. Can you imagine the hell that actually is? Think about it. Try relieving yourself into a living toilet, or eating a living sandwich, or surfing the web to "read your stories" on a living computer.
Ugh. Perish the thought and pass the bong.
These comics are super-fast reads — ten, 15 minutes tops. Each comic is like an episode of Tom and Jerry with three or four stories per issue. So when you decide to give them a go, be sure to get a few; otherwise you'll be left wanting more. Phil and Tyrone are monstrous little bastards, but ooh-wee are they cute!
The Eltingville Club
By: Evan Dorkin
Publisher: Dark Horse
Finally there is Evan Dorkin's The Eltingville Club. The geeks and nerds of fandom may be chic now — maybe — but that was not the case in the late '80s and early '90s. The Eltingville Club tells the story of four guys, William Dickey, Peter Dinunzio, Joshua Levy and Jerome T. Stokes. They are the greasy, pockmarked, self-righteous horsemen of fandom who are the embodiment of the seven deadly sins. They are a cross between the Simpsons Comic Book Guy and the nastiest of smarmy Internet trolls.
These are guys who write death threats to people who have wronged their sensibilities over what a movie, TV show or comic should be, but at the same time will pay for every single collectible, watch every movie and attend every Q&A, despite the egregious offenses it has perpetuated.
Their vitriol isn't just for people outside their group. On the contrary, it's even stronger for each other. They fight constantly, undermining one another at every step. They are insufferable asses who destroy everything around them.
If they are such horrible people, why read a comic about them? On the one hand there is the schadenfreude. It's quite funny to see them bring about their own downfall. Yet for all the looking down we get to do at their expense, for those of us who are geek culture fans, we get to see a reflection of ourselves.
On one hand, they are not all bad. The things they geek out about are the same kinds of things we do: the trailer for the new Star Trek series, finding a rare card or comic, a hero appearing at a local comic con. On the other, while we might not be horrible monsters, we do share a common angry core in our fandom. We might never write nasty letters, but most of us get charged up when our beloved [fill in the blank] is ruined by some idiot writer, editor, producer, etc. (Greedo shooting first, anyone?) I mean, we've poured our hearts and souls into our thing, whatever that is, and that passion can often sweep us away. We'll never burn down a comic book shop, but sometimes we cross the line. The Eltingville Club allows us to laugh at ourselves as much as at them.
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The whole thing, every single story, has been collected into one edition titled simply The Eltingville Club. At 146 pages, it takes a good couple of hours to read, mostly because this is a comic that is heavy on dialogue. It's like a Tarantino film in comic form — there is a lot of talking, most of which is F-bombs.
There is a bonus with this title. They made a pilot for an animated series for Adult Swim. Unfortunately it was never picked up, but you can watch it on YouTube.
So, there you have it, dear brethren. Five comic book series for the mostly mature adult. They are rude, crude and lowbrow. They are fun for the sake of fun, though two have won Eisner awards (The Goon and The Eltingville Club). But don't hold that against them. I mean, every dog will have its day, right?