The third reissued collection of assertively disturbed comics featuring Roman Dirge’s Little Dead Girl and her pals, Lenore: Cooties (Titan Books) reprints the final issues in the series’ original black-and-white Slave Labor run with suitably washed out (lots of earth tones) color added. Good news for lovers of Dirge’s sweetly psychotic blend of Harvey Comics and Dawn of the Dead — and a decent intro to the character for newcomers, too.
For those unfamiliar with our girl, Lenore is a dead and playful moppet who at the start of the third volume has risen from the depths of Heck because she was bored in the underworld. (“It was itchy and smelled like Fritos there, so I left,” she explains to the vampire turned rag doll Ragamuffin.) The Dark Overlord, pissed off at her escape, sends a bounty hunter after her: bucket-headed Pooty Applewater, who curses Ragamuffin with every disease that begins with the letter “S,” (scabies, shingles, schizophrenia, etc.), which the poor doll proceeds to experience one at a time. In between attacks by giant tentacled loogies and Nazi zombies, literal-minded Lenore and her pal engage in loopy arguments about metaphor and the nutritional value of bananas.
As imagined by Dirge, for all her hair-raising experiences (it’s not every girl who can escape the Bowels of Heck, after all), Lenore retains a blissful lack of awareness. When she’s pulled out of the grave by Ragamuffin, for instance, and told that she has a worm gnawing on one of her extra-large eyeballs, she wants to make it a pet. “I wonder how much of your brain has been eaten by the worms,” Ragamuffin asks at one point. “’Bout 39.4 percent,” Lenore nonchalantly replies. “It feels kinda funny.”
Dirge illustrates this bloody (lots of red in the zombie attack scenes) nonsense with vigorous cartoony innocence that makes even some of his grosser conceits (like Mr. Gosh, the rotting corpse who’s in love with Lenore) almost sweet at times. No surprise then that this volume contains a lauding intro by Neal Gaiman; the man knows his kid-like goth. In addition to the Lenore stories, this volume also includes the side strips featured in each original b-and-w comics: brief autobiographical snippets and a gory interpretation of “Pop Goes the Weasel” provide the highlights here. I guarantee you’ve never hear that kids’ song quite the same again after you see Dirge’s two-page strip.