Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 273 (11/3) -- The Fun Never Stops! by Drew Friedman

Reading Drew Friedman's 2010 book Too Soon? reminded me that I'd missed his 2007 comics collection, The Fun Never Stops!, so I had to remedy that situation as quickly as possible.

As Too Soon? collects Friedman's illustration work for the last two decades, The Fun Never Stops! does the same for his comics, hoovering up most (if not all) of his strips after the periods covered in Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead Is Purely Coincidental and Warts & All. After a short appreciative foreword by Dan Clowes and a much longer introduction (giving a good account of Friedman's entire career) by Ben Schwartz, Never Stops divides itself into seven possibly-thematically organized sections, all titled "The {some manner of enjoyment} Never Stops!"

Not all of those sections entirely make sense to the outside observer -- "Frolic" is obviously the Duke of Eltingville section, but otherwise they each are a general Friedman goulash, filled with some illustrations and more short stories about minor, mostly aged, celebrities seen semi-sympathetically (if not always coherently) and contemporary celebrities treated somewhat worse, as the latest extrusions from the sausage factory. Friedman always prefers the bizarre juxtaposition, like "America's Love Affair With Ethnics Hollering One Word Over and Over" (9 panels of famous movie moments in which someone yells the same thing twice) or "A Very Jerry Year" (a prediction of several unlikely things that would happen to Jerry Lewis in 2005) or "Fred & Ricky Join NAMBLA" (in which Mr. Mertz and Mr. Ricardo "make love to young boys") or "Everybody's Buddy" (Buddy Rich as a hair-tempered madman) or, at the non-celebrity extreme, "Retired N.Y.C. Elevator Men Theorize on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy."

There are no individual copyright dates -- a few stories have a date incorporated into the art, but the book doesn't provide any list of dates -- but I get the impression that the comics in this book skew much more towards the 1991 side of the subtitle than the 2006 end. (That's hard to determine, though, particularly since Friedman's interests are always with the old and obscure anyway -- a Jerry Lewis strip could be from any time at all, since it's really about the '60s Jerry.) The illustrations may skew somewhat later; Friedman's gotten vastly more illustration work over the past two decades, and 1991 is when that started ramping up.

Drew Friedman comics have to be experienced rather than described; he has a distinctive, warped sensibility, intensely steeped in old pop culture but with an almost literary detachment and a relentless tropism towards ugliness, unlikely connections, and random cultural detritus. What sells it is that unflinchingly realistic drawing style -- when you look at a Drew Friedman picture, you know it must be true in some way, because a fake could never look that good. Never Stops! isn't quite as zany as Any Similarity, nor does the new book have the startling punch that the weight of his early work did. But that's partly because we live in the world molded by Friedman and his fellow travelers in '80s comics and humor -- from Spy magazine to Peter Bagge. He can't shock us as he did simply because it's not the early '80s anymore, and Drew Friedman illustrations have been quietly mocking celebrities from the pages of the biggest publications of the world for two decades now -- in the battle of Friedman vs. the world, the world lost long ago.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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