January 06, 2011


If You Loved Me, You’d Think This Was Cute. By Nick Galifianakis. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

Women Are from Venus, Men Are Idiots. By John McPherson. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

     Wow, is the first collection of cartoons by Nick Galifianakis a mixed bag. He does some of the mixing himself – giving sections titles such as “The Bastard Files” and “Finding the One(s).” But this collection of single-panel cartoons, although it contains some real gems on the unending war between the sexes and its occasional truces, is also rather mixed up, and Galifianakis must bear the responsibility for that even if he did not exactly intend it. These cartoons were originally accompaniments to the Washington Post advice column by Carolyn Hax, “Tell Me About It.” They do stand on their own – sometimes hilariously, sometimes tellingly, sometimes lamely. But the way this book is set up is peculiar. Hax is Galifianakis’ ex-wife – a fact never mentioned in the book. The parting certainly seems amicable – she contributes an introduction to the book, and he compliments “Carolyn and Kenny” (Hax’s second husband) in his own introduction. But wouldn’t a direct reference to the context in which the cartoons were created be appropriate, given that the panels are all about people getting together, breaking up and everything in between? And just to get to those cartoons, assuming a reader takes the book sequentially, means going through five introductions: a forward by actor Zach Galifianakis, the cartoonist’s cousin; the intro by Hax; a three-page set of acknowledgments; a dedication page; and Nick Galifianakis’ own introduction. That intro is mostly about his dog, Zuzu, model for a recurring dog character in the panels. Zuzu died in August, but her death is not mentioned, although her illness is. This is perhaps an unfortunate reality of the timing of the book’s publication, but even if so, it really is unfortunate. As for the arrangement of the panels: while most sections make sense, there is one called “When We’re Five We’re All Artists” that sticks out like two sore thumbs, with panels on left-hand pages and blowups of details from those panels on right-hand ones. What is that all about? Galifianakis does not explain. And yet, and yet…there are some simply wonderful cartoons here, in which Galifianakis has clearly taken the pulse of modern dating, cohabiting, marriage and breakups; and the art work itself is exceptionally good – Galifianakis has an immediately recognizable style that is quite distinct from those of all other current cartoonists. Using several recurring or similar male characters and a wide variety of female ones, he rings changes on such old standbys of advice-to-the-lovelorn as fairy tales, Bridezilla stories, in-laws, friends vs. lovers, and much more. His captions capture only part of the effect of his cartoons – the drawings and captions are much better together than separately, even when both are good in themselves. Marriage counselor to man: “Interesting. What about that, Phil? How do you feel about becoming someone else entirely?” She to him: “I know you have your own ways of showing love. I like mine better.” He to her, in bed, as he types on his laptop: “You’re right, I am married to my job. But that makes you my torrid affair on the side.” Princess to frog: “I’ve heard the stories. I know you’re going to be handsome – but how do I know you’re not dull?” Girlfriend to girlfriend: “I always have sex on the first date. Rules out the jerks who rule out women who have sex on the first date.” There is quite obviously a contemporary spin to these panels that would make them inappropriate for, say Dear Abby. But that is exactly why so many of them are so good. Galifianakis does repeat himself a little too closely sometimes, probably because some panels went with similar letters in Hax’s column. For example, there are two nearly identical drawings here of Zuzu sitting on a couch, speaking to a woman. First caption: “Hey, until he follows you around every morning with a little plastic bag, I think we both know who’s calling the shots.” Second: “Uh, hello. He tells me things. I’m his dog.” Both captions work, but the repeated art is irritating. In fact, a number of presentation elements of this book are irritating – but not nearly enough to undercut the effectiveness of Galifianakis’ excellent art and his very pointed perspective on men and women. And dogs.

     The perspective is somewhat more old-fashioned and played for more traditional laughs in John McPherson’s Close to Home panels, a selection of which may be found in a new small hardcover gift book called Women Are from Venus, Men Are Idiots. It may be better to think twice, or three times, about the right person to whom to give it, though. Since 1992, McPherson has presented his perpetually unattractive urban and suburban couples in snapshots of life-as-it-may-not-be-but-very-nearly-is. This book features opposing magnets to be worn by two teenage daters, to keep them 18 inches apart at all times; a woman whose online profile says she likes men in uniform – and who gets matched with a garbage collector; a chore-a-day calendar for the reluctant-to-work-around-the-house husband; fake cobwebs to be used by the man whose wife takes too long to get ready to go out; a collection of toenail clippers from around the world, intended to impress a date; a chiropractic ad inside a honeymoon suite, in case carrying the bride over the threshold proves a bit too much for the groom; and more. Most of the panels are mildly amusing; few, if any, are laugh-out-loud funny (although if you know someone who does find them that funny, that’s the person to whom to give the book). McPherson is usually at his best with the book titles (this book’s title is taken from a book that appears in one panel), signs and stickers that provoke stares of bemusement from his characters – such as a bumper sticker that proclaims, “My Husband Was Inmate of the Month at Hillman Penitentiary.” Just how close to home is that supposed to be?

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