January 11, 2018


Heart and Brain 3: Body Language. By Nick Seluk. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

Lady Stuff: Secrets to Being a Woman. By Loryn Brantz. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

     Where better to turn for the secrets of life than comics? At least they can’t do a worse job of exploring and explaining the vicissitudes of everyday existence than all the professional gurus out there. And cartoonists’ distinctively skewed perspectives can sometimes offer insights that just can’t be communicated through any means except silly drawings and pithy writing. Take The Awkward Yeti as an example. Said yeti, a big-eyed, perpetually befuddled, bow-tie-wearing blue-fur-covered biped, is the nominal presenter of Nick Seluk’s Heart and Brain, a comic sequence whose third collection, Body Language, is the best so far. The idea here is that The Awkward Yeti’s organs have a life of their own, intertwined with but somewhat independent of his life, and they pursue their own agendas based on which body parts they are – and find themselves in conflict with each other from time to time, thereby causing all sorts of systemic distress for the person, or creature, in whom they live. This all makes a lot more sense in cartoon form than in descriptive words – which is the whole reason to turn to comics like this one for tips on living life better. Or more amusingly, anyway. The primary “frenemies” in the Heart and Brain collections are, of course, the methodical and results-oriented brain and the emotionally driven instant-gratification-seeking heart (the latter always accompanied by a butterfly that sometimes takes part in or accentuates the action). Brain is a big pink brain wearing square eyeglasses (the same ones The Awkward Yeti wears, naturally); Heart is a not-anatomically-correct heart-shaped red character with big googly eyes and a nearly perpetual smile (yes, smile: Heart has a small, expressive mouth; Brain has none). Some of Seluk’s cartoons are single panels, such as one showing Heart and Brain struggling together to carry a gigantic rock labeled “Self Doubt” up a hill whose top has the word “Goal” on it – as Brain says, “Maybe it would be easier if we put this down.” Other cartoons are multi-panel sequences, such as one in which Brain makes a budget, Heart flicks on a lighter to burn it, and Brain explains that a budget will make Heart happier “in the long term by taking care of needs before wants.” So Heart turns the lighter off – until Brain says “you just won’t be able to buy whatever you want whenever you want it,” and Heart flicks the lighter on again. Then there are peripheral characters who appear from time to time. A great one is Gut, who is all instinct and given to flatulence and to phrases such as, “It’s all a conspiracy, you know,” and “Just trust me, I know.” There is cute and happy Fat, who refuses to go away even when The Awkward Yeti asks him to, and who explains, “I make you CUDDLY!” There is Muscle, who suffers a cramp that Brain tries unsuccessfully to cure with a stretch. There is Tongue, whose main concern is, of course, eating, and who says, “If nobody sees you eat it, it didn’t happen.” There are Eyes, and Teeth, and Stomach, and even Gall Bladder, each with a unique personality. But it is Heart and Brain who hold The Awkward Yeti’s body, and Seluk’s cartoons, together, often in very surprising ways – as when Heart pours a jar of “new experiences” into Brain, picks him up and shakes him hard, then turns a wheel that opens a spigot into which liquid flows from Brain into a container labeled New Ideas. Think about that one a bit. In fact, think about a lot of the Heart and Brain cartoons – that’s what they’re there for.

     Loryn Brantz’s Lady Stuff is there for a different purpose: to help readers appreciate the oddities of everyday life, or at least let them know they are not alone when experiencing them. Brantz takes her own day-to-day experiences and interprets or reinterprets them through her cartoon self. This frequently leads to a version of before-and-after panels: “How I look at the beginning of the day” shows a neat, nicely made-up, well-dressed cartoon woman, while “How I look at the end” shows a smelly garbage can with eyes and a frown. Or “Bathroom floor before I brush my hair” shows a clean tile floor, while “bathroom floor after I brush my hair” shows brown, messy hairlike squiggles everywhere and the word “UGHHHHHHHHH.” In other panels, Brantz offers “Life Ambitions” (that being the title of one section in Lady Stuff) – for instance, one panel says “Follow Your Dreams” and shows her cartoon self wrapped tightly in a comfy blanket and saying, “I’m a professional blanket burrito.” Another panel, in “dress for success” mode, shows cartoon Brantz in a full-body hoodie, trying to become a “professional napper.” Another starts with her being advised to “find a job doing something you’re passionate about” and continues with an Internet search for career options in napping, taking baths and eating cheese. And then there is the admonition that starts, “When life gives you lemons,” which Brantz concludes, “make a small bed out of them and take a nap” (and she looks mighty comfortable doing just that). The book also includes “Mating Habits,” one of which is an amazingly funny multi-panel seduction technique built around guacamole, and “Self-Care,” in which one panel is a food pyramid with wine at the base, cheese and chocolate in the section just above it, wine above that section, and “more wine” at the top. There is even a touch of perception here about animals: excitement when a dog jumps onto cartoon Brantz’s lap, but super-wide eyes and the comment, “I have been chosen,” when a cat does so; and a dog walk during which cartoon Brantz is thinking, “This is nice,” while her dog is in utter ecstasy and thinking, “This is the best time of our lives!!!!!!!” Brantz may not have a clue about better ways to live, but she has plenty of clues about how ladies (and, for that matter, gentlemen) do live, and that is plenty funny enough to fill Lady Stuff with wry chuckles, available to readers as needed. Which, life being what it is, will be frequently.

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