The Man Who Loved Breasts
By Robert Goodin
It’s hard to be genuinely funny in the comics medium. It’s a truth that countless syndicated strips remind us of on a daily basis. In some ways a certain portion of their failure to amuse can be chalked up to the parameters within which they must operate in order to appease the manner of mainstream audience that comes with widespread syndication.
While a fair argument can be made for the skill of a true comedian’s ability to embrace such constraints, underground cartoonist have tapped into one key truth about humor: sick shit is funny. The perverse, the unspeakable, the social unacceptable—it worked for Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and Bill Hicks, and thanks in no small part to the immediacy of visual stimuli, it’s worked for cartoonists from R. Crumb to Ivan Brunetti.
Let’s not, however, overestimate the importance of the visual in the equation. While plenty of artists know their way around a nice piece of graphically suggestive imagery, that skill alone does not a funny cartoonist make. As lowbrow as the work of, say, Kaz or Johnny Ryan can appear, there’s an oft unappreciated level of craftsmanship required in the execution of a truly laugh-out-loud piece of sequential art.
It is, perhaps, overstating matters to lump The Man Who Loved Breasts in with, say, Comic Book Holocaust, however. Robert Goodin’s work is a touch more subtle, and, at least in the case of the book’s eponymous strip, the writer seems as interested in telling a story as devising a well-delivered joke. “The Man Who Loved Breasts” proves a surprisingly touching little story. Less fueled by sexual obsession than the title—and cover—might lead one to suspect, the titular man begins the story in a dead-end job typing promotional news letters for a vacuum and sewing company aimed at “housewives out in the suburbs.”
While the sexual overtones are certainly impossible to ignore, it’s the man’s genuine aesthetic affection for breasts combined with a distaste for his mundane employer that lead him to quit his job, experiment with alcoholism, and ultimately open up his own brassiere manufacturing company—all while pressing forth through a number of graphic montages that gleefully reestablish his—and, arguably, Goodin’s—appreciation for the aforementioned body part. The artist also readily embraces the time period in which the story is set, bringing into play the stodgy uniformity of the 50s and the liberating protests of the 60s, ultimately transcending the prurient nature of the story’s title.
The following strip, “George Olavatia: Amputee Fetishist” is a far more one note piece than its predecessor. Fortunately, it’s a funny one. It’s also a much more linear approach to comedic payoff, working steadily toward a punchline. Goodin is far less focused on any semblance of storytelling with “George Olavatia,” which is no doubt why the story was relegated to second string. Still, the strip is every bit as amusing as its decidedly frank title would lead one to believe.
The third and final strip, “A 21st Century Cartoonist in King Arthur’s Court” is the weakest of the trio. The punchline is amusing once again, but it lacks the stamina of “George Olavatia” and the heart of “The Man.” It does, however, provide glimpse into the diversity of Goodin’s pen, displaying a more cartoony take on his drawing style than its predecessors.
A rare one-shot from Top Shelf, The Man Who Loved Breasts is a nice introduction into Goodin’s work for a larger audience. It’s funny, well-drawn, and, at its best, gracefully balances the risqué with the substantive.