Gag Flashback: Four New Minis From Sam Henderson

Posted by on April 19th, 2010 at 5:12 AM

Rob reviews four new minis from Sam Henderson: APPLESAUCE IN YOUR EARS, HALF-EATEN PIZZA, SCHOOL FOR NERDS and NO, YOU HANG UP.

It’s always a treat to see a new minicomic from Sam Henderson, much less four of them at once. These comics are all single-panel gags taken from his highly-recommended blog, and show off the stupid-smart conceptual nature of his humor. Each of these minis is sub-titled “…and other cartoons you could have drawn”, spotlighting and undermining a common criticism he’s received over the years from casual readers. If anything, Henderson’s greatness lies in his understanding of knowing exactly how to use the minimum number of lines for maximum comedic effect.

While Henderson revels in the absurd (like the applesauce in your ears gag), he often goes further into the truly weird, like a man berating a cat by telling it that he was going to tell everyone that it was a cat, and there was nothing it could do about it. Henderson is a master at warping earnest speech and behavior, either crafting a gag with an absurd punchline with it or simply putting it in a context that makes no sense. He’ll also roll out a funny drawing to sell a joke (like a turtle with bared teeth going after a guy next to a sign saying “Beware: Vicious Turtle”), as well as wordplay, scatology or goofy characters.

Henderson’s at his best as a conceptualist, merging a strident or out-of-place statement with one of his trademark ridiculous drawings. For an artist who deliberately draws in a simplistic style that occasionally borders on the grotesque, his strips feature characters with pleasing shapes. I just like looking at his boxy figures with ears that stick out, eyes that appear on the same side of their head and blobby hands. There’s a matter-of-factness to his art that neatly downplays its more absurd elements and forces the reader to engage it directly.

There aren’t many other modern cartoonists working in Henderson’s style. The only clear recent antecedent I can point to for him might well be B.Kliban. While Henderson is a connoisseur of old humor publications (as a visit to his website would reveal), Kliban’s mixture of simplicity, odd juxtapositions, pure absurdity and occasional drifting into harsh, scatological or sexual subject matter would seem to be the master template for Henderson’s inspiration. That’s especially true for these collections of single-panel gags; indeed, Henderson, like Kliban, was equally adept at creating jokes for children as well as adults. Like Kliban, Henderson is a great thinker as a cartoonist, constantly aware of how a joke is drawn & created and how to manipulate that knowledge for the reader in a manner that’s amusing (and sometimes astonishingly direct).

While Henderson’s finest works tend to be longer stories, these gags are a treat and represent an artist still hard at work in honing new aspects of his craft. He doesn’t seem to have a regular publisher at the moment, which is unfortunate. Hopefully, he’ll find a publisher who understands what he’s doing and can promote it as humor that stands along the best cartoonists of the day, even if it lacks the surface qualities of other humorists. For now, fans can savor his minis and his work online.

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