Saturday, April 19, 2014
Published by Hic & Hoc
A variety of vegetables, birds, and other normally non-vocal objects and animals go through life insulting each other and generally be humorously unpleasant in this collection from cartoonist Lauren Barnett.
Originally posted online on a blog called "Me Likes You," which continues to this day here, the strips are very much in the style of one-panel gag comics you might see in the newspaper or in the New Yorker.
Except that in this case, they're actually funny.
I have a complex relationship with gag comics. When they work, they're some of the best thing you'll read in the humor end of the comics spectrum. My current favorite working in the genre is Sam Henderson. He understands that the key to making it work isn't playing it safe. To do a gag strip that's truly funny, you have to be willing to be unpleasant and uncomfortable, going in directions that would get you banned out of the newspaper within a week.
Barnett understands this and immediately lets the reader know what kind of jokes they are in for. The first official page has two birds (frequent protagonists in the collection), one of whom is stupid drunk and forcing its sober friend to deal with it. I've been on both sides of that one, and I suspect Barnett has as well.
From there, the jokes come fast and furious, ranging from the simple ("I'm as cool as me," says a cucumber to another, overheated veggie) to the subtle (a cassette expresses a sigh) to the crude ("I thought you were a stupid asshole and I guess I was right," says one bird after the other brags about their diet), balanced nicely across the pages. It's very rapid fire, with Barnett never lingering too long over a particular joke.
However, this isn't a flaw in Barnett's work at all. It's more the nature of the beast. The point here isn't how lavishly she could depict a kitchen--it's the idea of a bird getting baked into a cake by another bird or the shock and tears a banana sheds when it arrives too late to prevent suicide by banana bread.
Not all of the jokes worked for me, of course, but that's also the nature of the beast. What one reader finds laugh out loud funny another could see as a dud. Overall, I thought there were quite a few good jokes, and a few that were absolutely brilliant, like the dictionary that cheats at Scrabble.
Every once in awhile, Barnett will show off her art chops, with pieces that resemble inspirational posters by have a great, sarcastic wit instead. A well-textured snake dismisses the reader as common, for example. In another, a rooster demands the reader's accountability. These indicate that Barnett understand the ability to draw in a more technical style, and rejects it as necessary for the jokes.
Me Likes You Very Much isn't going to be for everyone. It takes a certain kind of taste for that odd combination of low-brow jokes with sophisticated humor to work, which is why fans of Henderson will find much to appreciate here. I liked this very much, and I look forward to seeking out more from Barnett in the future.