December 08, 2005


Damn! A Christmas Book with Sex, Violence, Drugs and Fruitcake: The Aberrant Art of Barry Kite. By Barry Kite. Pomegranate. $17.95.

The Nutty News. By Ron Barrett. Knopf. $8.95.

     By this time in gift-giving season, you have no doubt come up against a few recipients who are simply unclassifiable.  They are, in a word, rather weird (okay, that’s two words).  For those people – and only those people – these books may make delightful gifts, or at least suitably strange ones.

     The ins and outs of the title of Barry Kite’s book are already enough to confuse those who are easily confused.  The cover, which is also shown inside, is a hunting scene showing boaters with rifles on the River Thames, with the Houses of Parliament in the background. One man has just brought down none other than Santa Claus, who is falling into the river as his driverless sleigh continues flying high above.  Damn! indeed.  All Kite’s work in this book has the same sort of surreality and non-too-subtle undermining of traditional holiday spirit.  A picture called “Seasonal Adjustment” appears to show an old-fashioned madhouse where all the inmates are Santa, except for the one who is Napoleon; a clinician’s hands are dispensing a pill in the foreground.  One called “Maintaining Traditional Values” puts the Virgin Mary in a martial-arts costume and shows her kicking Santa for a loop.  A picture based on Renoir’s famous “The Boating Party” adds Santa, the Mona Lisa (wearing Santa’s hat) and a Picasso nude to the group.  Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Culp” is altered to show that the true cause of death of the corpse being dissected is a gaudily colored fruitcake.  To say this book is not for all tastes is to understate by quite a bit.  But there is a sort of off-center charm to the pictures and to Kite’s discussions of them.  It’s probably a great gift for someone who’s a little, you know, different.

     If that someone is a child, though, you certainly won’t want to give Kite’s book.  But you might consider The Nutty News, a reprint of a thoroughly silly 1981 book originally called The Daily Blab.  Set up to look like an undersized newspaper, Ron Barrett’s book is filled with the sorts of oddities that even today are fodder for gossip columns and “lifestyle” sections: cartoons come to life and create chaos in the house of a human family; a man named Vasco de Sussman claims he, not Columbus, “discovered” America, and in 1942, not 1492; a hostage-from-birth named Rae Punzel lets down her hair from an apartment house so a rock star named Mike Rofone can climb up for a date; a “Your Dreams” column answers sleep questions; and a comics section includes such offerings as “Nothing but Action” (tank chase, speeding train and airplane crash in three panels) and “Captain Complicated” (too much thinking interferes with fighting crime).  Most of this will provoke groans rather than gales of laughter, but some items are genuinely funny, and the whole project is sufficiently offbeat to make a really nice present for someone who is…well…sufficiently offbeat.

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