Friday, April 04, 2008

Har Har Comics #1

Har Har Comics #1, March 1990, Fantagraphics Books
by Mike Kazaleh

Blogger’s note: Entry for Thursday, April 3, 2008.

I decided to follow up on Tuesday’s theme of general hilarity with Har Har Comics #1, yet while Wha . . .Huh? satirized long-established subject matter, Har Har Comics creates its own cartoony characters with a decidedly Looney Tunes motif. Mike Kazaleh’s vignettes starring Hyper Al are the comic strip equivalent of a Bugs Bunny Merry Melody (which, I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve just now realized was Warner Brothers’ way of mimicking Disney’s Silly Symphonies, if only in name), though Al’s adventures are more self-depreciating and almost tragic, depending on your sensitivity to comics’ ability to utilize real life as a source terrible humor.

Consider this issue’s lead story, which depicts the monotony of Hyper Al’s day, beginning with the long line he has to endure in his buildings communal bathroom. “Will today be a day unlike all others? I think not . . .,” he tells himself. What he doesn’t know is that a spaceship has arrived and is looking for the perfect Earthen specimen for their zoo. They find Al and abduct him in his sleep, then, in his exhibit, they decide to mimic his native environment. So, when Al wakes up, he finds himself behind cardboard cutouts of his neighbors . . . in the bathroom line. It’s a great visual gag, but it’s also absolutely terrible to relate to. And many of us can.

The recreation of Al’s native environment reminds of a line uttered by Mitch Hedberg in his stand-up, about capturing a frog in a box with a stick and leaf, because “that’s what he’s used to.” I’m sure you can YouTube it.

This issue’s longest story is called, “Hey! Suppose All Our Pets Were Anthropomorphic!” There’s that word again. Longtime A Comic A Day readers know that I pursued anthropomorphic themes last year to coincide with the theatrical release of TMNT, then again this year for Groundhog Day and Easter. For most of those reviews, I couldn’t put my finger on the word I needed to describe that animal-centric genre, but the revelation that Fantagraphics was practically founded on it, what with series like Critters and Usagi Yojimbo, finally jogged the term. This story, about a man simply walking his dog, explores the concept in a highly animated yet completely realistic context. The dog walks and talks like a man, but he still acts like a dog, panting for his master’s attention and whimpering when he doesn’t get it. This little yarn is an excellent exploration of the human/pet dynamic, one that even a cat lover like me can understand.

What sells this issue in its entirety is the consistency of Mike Kazaleh’s artwork. His style varies a bit depending on his strips’ characters or circumstances, but his brushstroke is solid and confident, rife with motion and feeling. These pages could be storyboards for animated features, but in this case the story is complete, from set-up to unmitigated punchline. If a comic book is going to parallel these humdrum aspects of real life, at least it pads those punches with an appreciated kid glove. Otherwise, the joke . . . is on us.

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