Back when I was a smart-ass lad, the prime source for gag cartoons and non-series strips were the back pages of print magazines and in cheap paperback collections. I owned a box full of these paperbacks as a kid: collections by such magazine stalwarts as Virgil Partch (a.k.a. VIP), and I returned to them as often as I did to pb repackagings of newspaper comics like “Peanuts” or “B.C.” The gag collections were a trace edgier than the newspaper sets. Produced to fit a variety of differently themed magazines – including men’s mags – they weren’t as bound by the restrictions of newspaper syndication.
These days, of course, the largest platform for gag cartoons is the Internet. (Magazines? What are those again?) Yet reading cartoonist Jim Benton’s first print collection of web-based Reddit cartoons, Dog Butts and Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats. (NBM), I found myself mentally comparing it to the great gag cartoonist books of my youth.
To be sure, the level of what’s considered acceptably funny these days has undergone significant revision. Not even Gahan Wilson at his most demented would have come up with a cartoon featuring a demonic Easter Bunny who cuts off kiddies’ eyelids with scissors. But Benton does and he manages to make it funny – if still a bit icky.
As a jokester, Benton is as capable of coming up with a silly boob joke as he is a darkly comic riff on existential angst. The cartoons in Dog Butts vary from one-panel to sequential, from philosophical to goofy, thoughtful to groan-worthy – but they had me laughing out loud and shoving pages under my wife’s nose more than once. (“Check this out! ‘The Passive-Aggressive Raven’!”) Benton’s drawing style ranges from Thurber-ish to more meticulous: in one memorable sequence he draws five panels with stick figures, then shows us in fuller final panel that the figures we’ve been seeing are a horned demon and a three-eyed cat. The devil is in the details, right?
NBM’s trade paperback printing of Benton’s cartoons is a touch classier than the cheapie paperbacks cranked out by the likes of Fawcett Books back in the fifties and sixties, but it’s still in the service of the same brand of basic belly laffs. VIP would no doubt approve.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1561638463]