Thursday, July 03, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #183: Milk and Cheese by Evan Dorkin

Another book designed to make me feel old: Evan Dorkin has been making Milk & Cheese comics for twenty-five years now, and put together a big collection of those strips in late 2011. (Though I suspect Dorkin himself feels vastly older, since he's been doing this for more than twenty-five years now.)

Milk & Cheese are a one-joke premise -- violent anthropomorphic foodstuffs, "dairy products gone bad" -- that continues to work because Dorkin always keeps their adventures short and because Dorkin has an admirable surplus of bile available to channel through these little psychopaths. The book Milk and Cheese: Dairy Products Gone Bad! might not be their complete works anymore, since it's now three years later and I bet Dorkin has done a page or three since then. But it's pretty darn complete.

Each M&C strip follows a standard template: they appear, first in little circles flanking the title, and then in regular square panels, generally angry or excited about something. A rampage immediately follows -- perhaps slightly delayed for a bit of plot in the longer stories, with three or five pages to spread out in -- which culminates in a field of circular panels filled with mayhem. Their specific targets can vary -- hippies, blood banks -- but the premise is usually just an excuse for the ultra-violence, a place or a thin idea that sets off the little monsters.

It's repetitive, of course -- it's intentionally repetitive, and that's why Dorkin took almost twenty-five years to put together two hundred and forty pages of them. This is not a book to read straight through: it works much better three or five or ten pages at a time over the course of a few days or weeks. (And it's a lot of Schadenfreude-ly fun read that way; M&C tap into a deep well of antisocial and undirected anger in the human heart -- I may be oversharing here, particularly if you don't agree with me -- which makes their massively destructive antics gleeful and thrilling.)

I hate to be "that guy," but, looking back, I find the first comic's worth of strips -- maybe the second as well -- are the very best. Dorkin developed a vastly stronger and more supple art style later, with a precise line and amazing powers of detail, but the earliest strips have a raw punk energy in their lines that the "better" art can't quite match. He also hadn't settled into that template yet in the early strips; M&C were violent loudmouths who screamed non sequiturs, but they were more free-floating ids, causing destruction wherever they went because of who they were, not because that was the point of this particular strip. You can see that they came out of the same '80s stew as Badger and Flaming Carrot, before they became '90s-ized, all screaming and violence for violence's sake.

So you'll find some sameness as this book goes on, and the early work is the most exciting and fresh. But Dorkin's art becomes amazingly expressive as the book goes on, which will be more interesting to some readers. And Milk & Cheese themselves are wonderful comic creations -- in both senses of the word "comic" -- nihilistic and random and horrible and wonderful all together.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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