F Minus. By Tony Carrillo. Andrews McMeel. $12.95.
Brevity 2. By Guy Endore-Kaiser and Rodd Perry. Andrews McMeel. $12.95.
Monkey Business: Another Cartoon Collection by The Flying McCoys. By Glenn and Gary McCoy. Andrews McMeel. $12.95.
The single-panel cartoon is as venerable as they come: the very first continuing comic, Richard Outcault’s The Yellow Kid, was single-panel. Single-panel strips today have evolved into something between editorial cartoons and traditional sequential, multi-panel strips that build to punch lines. Close to Home and The Far Side are the prototypes of the modern single panel – and all the cartoonists in these three collections derive their humor from the same mixture of surrealism and the incongruity of everyday modern life.
F Minus is frequently clever, relying as much on Tony Carrillo’s pointed writing as on his art, which has an old-fashioned look to it. Carrillo’s panels are long – each will fit into the space of a traditional newspaper multi-panel strip – and Carrillo generally takes good advantage of this letterbox format. For example, one panel shows the traditional castaway on a tiny desert island, thinking the single word, “Figures…” – as a boat carrying a large tiger drifts in from the far right side of the panel. Carrillo’s humor runs to the decidedly odd. A man gives his wife flowers and a card that reads, “Your pros still outweigh your cons. Happy anniversary.” An executive emphatically cancels his appointments by bricking up the door to his office. Two normally dressed people wander into a panel in which all the other characters wear only undergarments, leading to the logical question, “You folks ain’t from around here, are ya?” A perfume salesman recommends a fragrance to a customer with the pitch, “Nothing is more romantic than a gift that says, ‘I want you to smell like this.’” A man observes, “There goes the neighborhood,” as all the other houses go by on trucks. A child’s backpack bears a sticker saying that his parent is employee of the month at the office. These are all skewed versions of everyday life. The best of them require a little thought before you get the joke – which makes it funnier when you do figure it out.
The Brevity panels by Guy & Rodd (as they sign themselves) are more immediately clear, and are in the more-traditional square format. The second Brevity collection is as consistent as the first, with an ongoing “a little bit beyond Close to Home” approach. In one panel, a film credit reads, “No animals were harmed in the making of this film. Except the ones we ate.” A poodle looks in a mirror and exclaims, “My God, I am one of those foofy little dogs.” A penguin says to another, “I wish that camera crew would leave so we could start partying again.” A baby in a crib says to another, “Hey kid, what are you in for?” There are recurrent parodies of Sesame Street (in one, kids descend through Oscar the Grouch’s trash can and find him living in a palatial underground home), Star Wars, American history and life in Hell (in one panel, the demons buy Satan a fur coat as a gag gift). And some stuff is strange just for the heck of it, such as “fortune kung pao broccoli,” invented “before cookies became the norm,” and the original title of Tolstoy’s masterpiece, “War & Peace & Cabbage.” Some of the humor misfires by being juvenile or simply unfunny, but a lot of it is on target.
The Flying McCoys also uses square panels, drawn in a different style from those of Brevity – with more-exaggerated appearances of the characters. But the humor is in a similar vein. Monkey Business is an all-color collection – a nice touch, since the color emphasizes the weirdness. Among Glenn and Gary McCoy’s ideas are a true “gated community,” in which every person has a gate around himself or herself; “barnyard awareness ribbons” for animals (a tuxedo-clad pig wears one for swine flu, an elegantly clothed chicken sports one for bird flu, and so on); and a couple whose appearance matches perfectly, but for different reasons: her shirt says “baby,” with an arrow pointing down, while his says “beer.” Some of the puns are really groaners: “A reptile dysfunction” refers to a snake that won’t get itself up for the traditional snake charmer. But some ideas are genuinely clever, such as a “jog-thru window” at a health store (that one might actually catch on). And then there are the bits of social commentary, as when a doctor tells a patient, “True, laughter is the best medicine, but it’s not covered by your HMO.” The appeal of Monkey Business – and of Brevity 2 and F Minus – will depend on how closely the cartoonists’ sense of humor matches your own. If none of these books seems the slightest bit funny to you, you can always look for Blondie or Beetle Bailey.