It’s April Fools’ Day, which according to Wikipedia, began in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and has ended in pop culture websites deceiving their readers with fake news stories and obscure pop culture references. But at Paste, we’d rather grant you the gift of laughter in ways other than insulting your intelligence or announcing a legitimately interesting entity that doesn’t actually exist. (That’s just being a dick!)
Instead, we’d like to share some of the comic books that make us especially happy. Though the Big Two (and a half) have shown a renewed interest in comedy comics, there are years of literally funny books to enjoy. Here are some of our favorites.
For my money, I’m not sure if it gets much better than an amnesiac space robot working farm duties. That plot twist from Jeffrey Brown’s Incredible Change-Bots Two offered me no shortage of hilarity, just as the recent odds-and-ends Incredible Change-Bots Two Point Something Something continued that brilliance in interview segments (“I train hard. Play hard. Doing stuff hard.”) with some of the finest ‘80s cartoon automaton parodies. But as far as pure, goofy all-ages enlightenment, James Kochalka’s Dragon Puncher series holds a very special place in my heart.
Kochalka uses pictures of his kids’ faces inserted in drawings of lumbering, brawling warriors set against vistas from family vacations. And it’s overwhelmingly charming. The family cats steal the show, with facial expressions that redefine apathy set on bodies throwing epic haymakers at pastel monsters. If no part of that sentence sounds appealing, you’re reading the wrong article. More than the sheer absurdity of it, Kochalka displays a real affection for the people closest in his life, and that passion shines lovingly in each photo of his smiling sons and each wooden-spoon fight. Luckily, we won’t have to wait long for a family reunion as third volume Johnny Boo Meets Dragon Puncher debuts in June.
Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals is a lot of things: an unpacking of modern love. A trippy exploration of time—and what might happen if two people could stop it with their no-no happy parts. But above all, right down to its genesis, Sex Criminals was meant to be a hilarious book. The stuff that kills me the most in Sex Criminals isn’t necessarily the written gags between our main couple, Suzie and Jon. Though there are plenty of those; Fraction is loaded with great turns of phrase, and I thought I was going to bust a rib seeing the two describe the location of their own post-coital space. When Suzie freezes time after an orgasm, she calls it “The Quiet.” The less imaginative male version? That’d be “Cumworld.” But this Image title flourishes in the tiny details. Zdarsky’s porn shop displays, his diagrams of moves like the “Three-Second Rule Taco” and “Quisping.” And who can forget Sexual Gary
In elementary school, my bus buddy and I would read Garfield and Peanuts out loud together on the way to and from school. These days I’m more likely to (discreetly) read Sex Criminals on my iPhone during my commute, but there is one current series that captures a lot of the unhurried charm and humor that drew me to those strips decades ago: Australian cartoonist Jake Lawrence’s Teen Dog. Teen Dog is a chill-to-the-max anthropomorphic canine navigating his ripped-from-the-early-nineties high school and hanging with his super-cool best friends. Lawrence’s humor is understated and occasionally bizarre (Teen Dog’s locker opens to The Void), but always kind. Even Thug Pug, Teen Dog’s self-proclaimed rival, can’t harsh the vibe too much. It seems like people expected this series to be a Poochie riff loaded with cynicism, but it’s extremely genuine. Teen Dog is the perfect counterbalance to a monthly scene dominated by overly serious cape comics, and a calm, chuckle-inducing addition to my pull list.
When people think of Dragon Ball, they often think of weirdly-muscled monster men and very spiky hair. They tend to neglect that the series has its roots in comedy, or that it was initially described as a “gag cartoonist doing fight comics.” But for the first few years, before part two (released as Dragon Ball Z in the United States), the series was much more orientated towards comedy. In fact, one of the most memorable scenes in the entire series involves a character who refrains from fighting a stinky opponent until his friend reminds him that he’s drawn without nostrils, and therefore can’t smell the stench. Character names are almost always puns, page layouts are designed as visual gags, and cartoonist Akira Toriyama can get scatological (to say the least). Comedy is especially difficult in comics because readers experience time subjectively, but this challenge never once seemed like anything more than a minor inconvenience for Toriyama.
When people talk about Dave Sim and Gerhard’s Cerebus, the last thing anyone ever mentions is that it’s funny. The book carries a stigma thanks to how dark, heavy and offensive it eventually gets, and while that’s fair (and something that bears its own separate analysis), its initial parody and satire shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, the first 50 or so issues of Cerebus are designed specifically to be funny, and it is undeniably so—whether Sim includes goofy Marvel rip-off characters, thumbs his nose at the upper class or just inserts the Marx Brothers as characters/actors within the space of the larger drama.
As such, it’s hard not to read Cerebus or High Society—the second volume of the cartoon aardvark’s adventures—and just laugh. Sim is many things, but chief amongst them is a master cartoonist impeccable at recreating voices and comedic timing. Full of characters who exist just to be stupid or goofy, Cerebus’ pages overflow with drunks and punchlines. While their antics may come in varied shapes and sizes throughout the epic, whenever they pop up they remain remarkably consistent: Lord Julius of Palnu is always witty, Whatever-Roach is always over the top, Elric is always basically Foghorn Leghorn. Sim himself even appears as “Dave the Cartoonist/Creator,” and signs off with Bugs Bunny’s famous “That’s All Folks.”
This observation may have gotten lost in 300-issues, but Cerebus is a comedy, and it’s a very funny one at that.