August 13, 2009


The Argyle Sweater. By Scott Hilburn. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth! By Diane deGroat and Shelley Rotner. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $14.99.

     Was Peter Pan the boy who wouldn’t grow up, or was it Scott Hilburn? Hilburn’s single-panel comic, The Argyle Sweater, often comes across as humor in an arrested-development vein. The cover of the first collection, for example, shows two frontiersmen wearing animal-tail hats sitting at a bar – and, on the next bar stool, a bear wearing a hat made of human buttocks. Juvenile, but funny. Hilburn has a thing about bears and buttocks, actually. Another of his panels has two bears about to break into a beehive, warning a third bear not to touch the next tree’s “hiney bees” – whose “hive” is a roll of toilet paper. A little of this sort of thing goes a long way, but thankfully, there is more to The Argyle Sweater than buttocks humor. One super-crowded panel shows two cowboys drawn so large that they barely fit into the square – and one of them is saying, “All right, Hutchins – this ’toon aint big enough for the both of us!” Another panel has the Loch Ness monster showing off his photo album, but being unsure whether the pictures are of him or of floating logs. Then there are the two snake construction workers checking out a female snake slithering by and commenting, “Nice asp.” And the man who takes his dog to the vet because it has three tails, only to be told “that’s just the international cartoon symbol for movement.” And the elevator full of porcupines inviting one more passenger to come in – but the hapless invitee is a balloon animal. And Captain Kirk discovering that Spock’s famous hand sign actually translates as “die soon and suffer.” And plenty of panels reinterpreting children’s stories and fairy tales, everything from “The Three Little Pigs” (a recurring theme) to Disney’s version of “Snow White” (Hilburn has Doc under arrest for prescribing medications for the other dwarfs without a license). Hilburn’s cartoon got its start on the Internet and has some of the edginess of the electronic medium along with some of its tastelessness. On balance, The Argyle Sweater is more than funny enough on its good days to make up for its occasional misfires. And it takes a certain kind of delightfully twisted mind to change the old patient-on-a-psychiatrist’s-couch setup to one featuring “Puff, the manic dragon,” complaining that “I’m up, I’m down…I just can’t seem to get control of my emotions.”

     Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth! is intended for kids rather than (ostensible) grownups, but one wonders whether Diane deGroat and Shelley Rotner are themselves, at heart, women who never quite outgrew being mischievous little girls. That would explain the many foldouts in this book, whose text consists entirely of “Dogs do” contrasted with “Dogs don’t.” For example, “do” shows a dog with a stick in its mouth; lift the flap, and “don’t” shows one with a different kind of stick – a baseball bat – grasped in its paws. “Do” shows a dog mouthing a tennis ball; open the flap and “don’t” shows the same pup playing the game. “Do” shows a dog carrying a puppy in its mouth; “don’t” shows the puppy being pushed in a baby carriage. “Do” shows howling at the moon; “don’t” shows enthusiastic keyboard playing in a band. The entire book uses photo illustrations, not drawings or cartoons, and that is a big part of the fun: the “do” pictures show real dogs doing things that dogs actually do, while the “don’t” ones show the same dogs doing impossible things in impossible poses. There are a few non-foldout pages, too, such as one in which “do” shows a dog riding with head out the car window and “don’t” shows the dog driving the car. And there is even one bit of mild bathroom humor, with “do” showing a dog squatting in the street and “don’t” showing the same dog in the same position on a toilet in the house. Diane and Shelley, meet Scott. Maybe you can all avoid growing up together.

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