Rich Kreiner’s Yearlong Best of the Year: Tales Designed to Thrizzle

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

Image ©2009 Michael Kupperman

A while back, in designating R. Sikoryak’s Masterpiece Comics as the most fun book of last year, I made it easier on myself by not considering Michael Kupperman’s Tales Designed to Thrizzle Volume One. This is a collection of the first four issues of the series and even though the material went from its original, two-color printings to full color in the new album, I stayed away for two reasons. One was economic, as I already had the individual comics. The other was cautionary, in that there seemed to be something dangerous, something man was not meant to trifle with, something unnatural, in concentrating all that uncut hilarity in one place (see an instructive parallel in the Monty Python routine “The Killer Joke”).

At its basal level, Kupperman’s sense of humor starts with a susceptible contemporary sensibility driven into survival mode by the open floodgates of mass culture, a modern consciousness threatened by amusement and diversion. The strategic response is one of aggressive accretion, grasping at straws and flotsam and winding up with some very odd however buoyant accumulations. The net gain is a cheered-up surrealism, one less dark, less troubled, less sexualized, less psychologically freighted. In that the comics may owe more to dada, but without that movement’s inherent sense of provocation. Kupperman’s material also more resembles surrealism in its literary and narrative underpinnings: Much of his funny business is like the set-ups for jokes that don’t really pay off the way you expect but lead you to realize just how inherently wacky the initial premises were themselves.

The latest issue of the Tales Designed to Thrizzle #5, serves as a perfect example. Much of the issue is uncharacteristically given over to a “theme” of sorts, the adventures of Mark Twain and Albert Einstein in a mustachioed team-up. One sequence (again, unusually extended) is that of Twain & Einstein comics, which starts out like a hard-boiled detective story until Einstein’s attempt to make crab mayonnaise backfires and ushers in a different genre entirely.

Twain: “Well, we’ve got super-powers now!”

Einstein: “Yeah, but I’m a baby!”

Thus commences the full-tilt metamorphosis from folk singer interlude to Twain’s dropped accent to the mimicry of a domestic comedy or drama (I’m not sure which) to a terrific sight gag with a telephone to the intrusion of a horrible Englishman stereotype to making out with the robotrix from Metropolis to The End.

As a mix master of pop-culture detritus, Kupperman ranges far and effortlessly for his source material. The covers of other issues of Twain & Einstein sample teen hijinx comics and EC horror titles as well as a classic Kubert composition for DC’s Our Army at War. Nor does anybody match Kupperman for film-title parodies that far out on the comedic limb, as this pair from an unremembered yesteryear: “Pardon My Yanking and Mail Me Soup, Moron.” There’s a kid’s activity page, a speculative origin of a speculative rock-and-roll band in “Birth of the Monkees,” a page on the hobo fashion revival and, as they say, much, much more.

That having been said, you pick up something by Kupperman for the first time and you’ll still have no idea what you’re in for. After all, that’s exactly the way it’ll be every other time subsequent.

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