By Noah Van Sciver
Welcome, Noah Van Sciver, to an extremely exclusive club. Ivan Brunetti’s in it. So’s Tony Millionaire, Johnny Ryan, and Nick Gurewitch. Oh, and Ken Dahl, too. It’s a short list indeed. I am sure there are a few more whose names I can’t think of at the moment, but the list of cartoonists capable of honestly making me laugh outloud is rather short indeed.
There is, perhaps, a theme across these works. Something gutteral. A sometimes base sensibility that I just can’t repress, no matter how hard I try. I even, on occasional, feel a bit guilty. I remember, once, reading an Angry Youth Comix collection on a train, eyes dart back and forth to make sure no one saw exactly what was eliciting such explosive, full body laughter.
It’s not that I don’t find other cartoonists funny—I’d like to think that I recognize good humor when confronted with it—it’s just that, frankly, there’s a difference between recognizing that “this is funny” and actually momentarily losing control over one’s composure.
Now, I should state definitively that this newest issue of Blammo doesn’t have the laugh frequency of a, say, Maakies or a Schizo, but that certainly isn’t an entirely negative thing. Sciver really treats his series as a catchall. Ideas are thrown against the wall, and some stick better than other—or, perhaps more appropriate, stick in different ways. The result is a surprisingly diverse collection that is sometimes funny, sometimes surreal, and even, amazingly, sometimes touching.
The latter certainly applies to “As I Remember It,” a story written by Sciver’s older brother, Ethan. It’s a reflective piece about growing up poor—watching VHS tapes sitcoms of old sitcoms, buying toys from the clearance racks, and making friends drop you off a few blocks from home, so they never have to see the front of your run down house.
It’s a touching, but not overly sentimental story of two brothers born years a part, who genuinely seem to like each other, and Sciver, whose work so often veers full bore into the goofy, shows a good deal of restraint in his pacing, never invested in the pursuit of some big payoff.
Of course Sciver then segues into the goofiest strip of the book—“Chicken Strips,” an apparent revisiting of lifelong motif for the cartoonist (touched upon in the drawings of a young “Froah” in the preceding story). The strip is populated by a cast of awful, awful chickens, manifestations of Van Sciver’s very apparent love of drawing the grotesque, and also unlike its predecessor, the story is invested in its punchline above all.
“Punks vs. Lizards” seems to have manifested from a very similar place as Ryan’s Prison Pit, a realization that the artist is beholden to no one—if you make something that you genuinely enjoying creating, there will no doubt be an audience out there ready to embrace it. And frankly, it’s hard to imagine something more fun to draw than a post apocalyptic comic pitting first-wave punk rockers a car-sized man-eating lizard. The mustachioed contemporary Bob Dylan in full riverboat garb no doubt presented a similar opportunity, and Van Sciver happily spins the musician’s perceived crotchety disposition into a story of its own.
“Abby’s Road,” meanwhile, paints a surprisingly sympathetic picture of a troubled young Juggalo, without ever poking too much fun at the subculture or taking the easy way out with clown makeup slathered meetups.
The centerpiece of the book, however, is Van Sciver’s own rampant neuroses, that rare mixture of self-loathing and aggrandizing that seemingly occurs with am inordinate frequency amongst cartoonists. Van Sciver just wants cute girls to like his comics, and to make enough money to live, and to be recognized as the greatest talent of his generation—or, at the very least, walk away from it all looking a less less weary than his living dead depiction of tour buddy, John Porcellino.
I was leafing through Blammo #6 in front of Van Sciver’s table at MIX two weeks ago, when he tooked the issue from my hands and flipped to the final page. Below a guest strip from Porcellino was a three panel joke piece called “My Ignatz Award Acceptance Speech.” He drew it, and it came true—at leas in part. The issue he was holding in his hands had, in fact, been nominated for the award.
“In the next issue I’ve got one with me winning the lottery,” he smiled. Best of luck with that, Van Sciver. In the meantime, the vindication of making a truly entertaining book will have to suffice.