February 16, 2006


Gangsta Yoga with DJ Dog: A “Housebroken” Collection. By Steve Watkins. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

When Bad Things Happen to Stupid People: A “Close to Home” Collection. By John McPherson. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

     There is something about the ever-expanding American suburban experience that just aches to be punctured.  Here are two comic strips – one relatively new, one of long standing – that handle the deflation of suburbia gently, but still with an edge.

     Steve Watkins’ Housebroken is the simple, homespun tale of a now-broke rap star living with the family of the lawyer who tried unsuccessfully to defend him against losing an endorsement contract for not being “urban” enough.  The lawyer has a seven-year-old son who is usually a co-conspirator with the ex-rapper and a nine-year-old daughter who is preoccupied with corporate life and hopes to become a CEO, preferably by age 10.  Just an ordinary suburban family, right?  Oh: the rapper is a dog.  A real dog. Just an ordinary talking pit bull who teaches yoga classes such positions as “just chillin’” and “hide from driveby.”  Who helps seven-year-old Malik and nine-year-old Mya change their school orchestra into the “Murderers Bows Orchestra,” which isn’t “playin’ any music written by a white man.”  Who calls telephone information and asks for the number of the “fine honey from the club last night.”  Who dresses up as the “Easter homey” and insists kids ask for “eggs of color,” not “colored eggs.”  Get the picture?  There are lots of pictures, actually – Housebroken is a comic strip, after all.  And there is lots of character-oriented comedy as well as some sendups of everyday American (not just suburban) life: Mya’s sale of “Girl Scout Cookie-backed securities” nets $127 million, but DJ gets “paid in after-tax dollars.  Here’s $2.71.”  This is Watkins’ second Housebroken collection, and it shows his humor becoming more pointed and his characters more fully developed.  His strip is worth watching – and reading.

     John McPherson’s Close to Home is now in its 13th collection (there have also been two oversize “Treasury” volumes), and this one is among the very best.  The reason is that the panels are interspersed with commentary – and some cartoons are included that never made it into newspapers.  McPherson is well known for taking things just a bit too far for his scenes to seem realistic.  But what happens when he takes them even a bit farther?  The “Killed by the Editor” section in When Bad Things Happen to Stupid People contains, for example, a hilarious “Viagra Falls” panel in which the water rises high just before plunging down.  McPherson also includes an “Angry Letters” section – for instance, some chiropractors objected to a cartoon showing a chiropractor treating a patient’s back by jumping onto it from a stepladder.  Those would be the chiropractors with no sense of humor.  Outside the special sections, the book is packed with the usual Close to Home absurdities: dental credit cards giving 3% credit toward root canals; a jacket for grandmothers that is covered with 48 plastic pouches for photos of grandchildren; a Greek mythology class in which the teacher is a centaur; and many more.  The book’s combination of traditional Close to Home panels with some behind-the-scenes information makes McPherson’s not-quite-suburban world even more fun to visit than usual.

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