Rich Kreiner’s Yearlong Best of the Year: Ho! The Morally Questionable Cartoons of Ivan Brunetti

Posted by on March 17th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Fantagraphics Books; 112 pp.; $19.99; B&W; Hardcover

There’s an immediate laugh to be had with the extended title of Ho! The Morally Questionable Cartoons of Ivan Brunetti. This is a slyly hilarious understatement, a clever counterpoint to contents as there’s nothing “questionable” about these jokes. That’s their strength, although I say that within the clinically quarantined confines of a cartoon laboratory. They are as unconscionable, uninhibited and unimpeded as can be imagined and the fact that you couldn’t have imagined them unaided only adds to their stature (and yours).

Ho! is a collection of Brunetti’s single-panel gags including selected pieces from Haw! (2001), Hee! (2005) and Hotwire #2 (2007). So some have seen print before, but for anyone like me, who has been able to repress them successfully, they will again stand fresh and toxicologically uncut, just as they are likely to remain in perpetuity. Their fury, glee, glory and ability to repulse have not dulled and do not fade. Age does not wither them, nor custom stale their infinite variety.

There’s unequivocally a shock-and-awe aspect to Brunetti’s humor, much of it tied to uncommon forms of sexuality and spectacular instances of depravity. It’s so immediate and overwhelming that there’s an urgency to ignore what fine lines he does walk. For instance, his cartoon styles — plural — are accomplished and scrupulously polished. Any less refined and they become more disturbing still for their associations with a child’s very troubled scrawlings. Any more refined and they lurch too close to a more representational realism that undercuts their humor: It’s essential to remember that no actual living creature was harmed, assaulted, abused, tortured, dismembered, degraded, defiled, scarred or irreparably humiliated in the drawing of this book.

These one-shot cartoons don’t necessarily represent Brunetti at his very best (I prefer the oversized Schizo #4 for its fly-bys at Olympian heights or, alternatively, the Misery Loves Comedy compilation for its view of the heights from Stygian depths). But these are certainly superlative examples of one thing that Brunetti does that, to my sheltered knowledge, no one else can do as thoroughly. Single pictures often carry within themselves their own additive, accentuating “topper” (or two) (or more). A relatively tame case in point comes no later than the second cartoon in the book. An embarrassed, milquetoastish guy has his hand down the pants of an upset, burly figure next to him and says, “Ooh, I’m terribly sorry sir … I thought you were a lesbian.” Now, if this cartoon isn’t running with this entry, you can only guess at the precise visual tenor of the scene. Regardless, I invite you to contemplate the number of levels on which the situation offends and the number of ways the transgressive joking works (or, if you’re looking over your shoulder, the number of levels on which it could theoretically work). I’m hardly a moral tripwire, but I count at least three affronts to human decency, which right there ought to help you judge how seriously you want to take my opinion of what’s funny.

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