Saturday, September 17, 2016
earlier this year, I wanted to revisit some more of his stuff. And, luckily, I was able to find an only slightly battered trade paperback of his mid-90s series The 4-Fisted Misadventures of TUG & buster.
This is a weird book -- possibly even weirder than Gregory, if that's possible. Tug is an Elvis-looking greaser type who never talks or does anything constructive, but does smoke constantly. (He walks around, and stuff happens to him, but he never initiates anything at all.) Buster is a diminutive -- Gregory-esque in stature, actually, though much more communicative -- hero-worshipping man-boy (seriously, I don't know which) whose puppy-like enthusiasm for the version of Tug he's constructed in his head drives all of these stories. Those are the two main characters; the secondaries are even weirder -- sullen loser Stinkfinger and lovably creepy Genital Ben -- and the fact that Tug and Buster live with Buster's only-half seen mother is also odd.
And this was originally single comic-book issues -- because nearly everything was, in the mid-90s -- so this book collects six stories, each around 20-30 pages. (I'm not sure why they're not all rigidly the same page length, like most serialized comics; maybe Hempel had back-ups with other characters or other material in his comics. My copies got lost in the flood, so I can't check.) Each one is a satire, or maybe piss-take is a better word, about some element of masculinity, since Buster is obsessed with being manly, and in particular with how very, very manly Tug is. (In a purely heterosexual way, of course!)
Hempel's art is sensuously flowing, and his people look more designed than organic -- this is a cartoon world, and he draws it that way, with excellent details and smart page layouts. The writing is equally cartoony, on purpose, and one suspects the "men's movement" of the time, with all of its drum circles and other silliness, is somewhere behind the concept.
TUG & buster isn't a lost classic, but it's a very funny, adultly silly comic by a great cartoonist who is wish did more books like this. But maybe he still can, and will.