Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book-A-Day 2010 # 349 (1/18) -- I Love You, I Hate You, I'm Hungry by Bruce Eric Kaplan

Of all the categories of books that are difficult to review -- dream-diaries, collections of sexual fantasies, train schedules, compendia of accounting standards -- collections of single-panel cartoons are the ones that I find myself reading the most often. A great cartoon, of course, marries exactly the right words to a precisely correct drawing to make one harmonious, and humorous, effect. And if criticizing humor is difficult in the first place -- as E.B. White and his frog noted -- then doing so for two dimensions simultaneously is yet another level of complication, doubling the chances to utterly miss the point, delve into obscure intellectualism, or try to escape quickly by saying something facile and trite.

Which is all to say that I just read Bruce Eric Kaplan's new book of cartoons, I Love You, I Hate You, I'm Hungry, and I think it's very good, in that very BEKish way, but I hate trying to be any more specific than that.

(Checking my archives, I see I've previously managed to get away without saying much about BEK books -- Edmund and Rosemary Go to Hell got its own post, but it was a short one; The Cat That Changed My Life got a short paragraph in a monthly run-down; and so did Every Person on the Planet -- and that those books all had plots and storylines; I seem to have missed writing about BEK's previous excellent books of single-panel cartoons, No One You Know and This Is a Bad Time.)

Kaplan is a deeply 21st Century cartoonist; his figures are both blockily figural and bluntly honest -- they take the feel-good language and bushy lines of '70s Edward Koren cartoons and straighten them both out into arrows pointed precisely at what they want right now. (As much as they can tell what they want; Kaplan's people are modern urban types, and they're more clear that they want it now than they are about what they want.)

Look, I can't give you a dozen Kaplan cartoons here, but I can give you their captions, which will show you the flavor:
  • "I'll check with Ann -- she takes care of everything involving human contact."
  • "It's nice to finally be able to put a face to a humiliating nickname."
  • "Being a mother who fetishizes every aspect of parenting is a full-time job."
  • "This has been a really challenging time for me superficially."
  • "There'll be other horrible men who don't really like you."
  • "I thought the vaguely homoerotic undertones would be better."
  • "I woke up in a strange marriage with my clothes off."
  • "He's not in recovery -- he just speaks that way."
  • "And this is our child, but we never use him."
  • "Why do we need some piece of paper to say that we hate each other?"
  • "I saw the most fascinating picture of a celebrity getting a cup of coffee today."
He's clever, of course -- single-panel cartoonists have to be clever; it's one of the requirements -- but he's clever in a cruel, dispassionate way. His characters say things that get thought but not said much -- or say standard conversational catchphrases, twisted to express real emotion rather than polite banalities. (Though sometimes they're just silly, or non sequiturs -- no cartoonist does exactly the same thing all the time.) What's exciting about Kaplan is how his figures -- those squared-off lumps with their wide stances, as if they're always bracing themselves against the horrible things life is shooting at them -- use language as weapons against each other; a long sequence of Kaplan cartoons can be like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? restaged as a satire.

Humor is individual, of course -- a lot of people have never found anything that the New Yorker publishes to be funny, and Kaplan is the epitome of the current incarnation of the New Yorker cartoon. But I, and many other lovers of cartoons, think his work is both thrilling and really funny. And, in the end, that's what any discussion of humor boils down to: this is a collection of jokes, and they made me laugh more often than not.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

No comments:

Post a Comment