June 20, 2019
(++++) GROWN-UP COMICS
Croquette & Empanada: A Love Story. By Ana Oncina. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.
Business Cat 2: Hostile Takeovers. By Tom Fonder. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.
There is still something endearingly childlike about many cartoon characters, even when they appear in stories that are certainly not childish. The title characters in Ana Oncina’s Croquette & Empanada happen to be adorable, and both happen to be baked goods, but this is indeed, as the book’s subtitle indicates, a love story, in which the two move in together and have all the everyday adventures associated with making a life with another (adult) person. In fact, the other characters in Croquette & Empanada are humans, but the title characters interact with them seamlessly, and no one is the slightest bit surprised to have “pastry people” adopt pets, go shopping, attend parties, go on trips, etc. The total acceptance of Croquette and Empanada as just two more members of the (admittedly somewhat expanded) human family is the underlying conceit of Oncina’s book, and it is often what makes the mundane occurrences funny. For instance, there is a recurring theme called “Scary Bedtime Stories” that involves Croquette and Empanada at night. In one of these sequences, Empanada says a book scares her and asks Croquette to read it to her, and when he does, the two characters both get too frightened to sleep. That is the whole story. In another set of panels with the same title, Empanada pushes against Croquette while sleeping, so he almost falls out of bed; he wakes her up so she moves a bit farther away; then she goes to sleep again and the same thing happens. That too is the whole story – one that humans with partners will surely recognize, and one made amusing only because here it involves a croquette and an empanada. To be sure, an occasional sequence plays directly with what the characters are: one “Scary Bedtime Stories” entry has Croquette so soundly asleep that he does not realize Empanada has taken a bite out of him. Then there is the at-a-party story in which Croquette keeps talking and talking and talking, well beyond the comfort level of others at the gathering – that one is called “Croquette on a Roll,” a punning reference to baked goods. And early in their relationship, while they have dinner together, Empanada comments, “I love croquettes. I think they’re my favorite food. You should try one.” Watching Empanada eating miniature versions of himself, Croquette can only stare at her and say, “No, thanks.” The humor here is mild and offbeat at the same time, and occasionally on the weird side, as when Empanada creates “a comic about us as if we were people.” Simply drawn against plain backgrounds, Oncina’s book scarcely breaks new ground artistically or thematically. But its basic premise works surprisingly well.
Tom Fonder’s Business Cat, originally an Internet comic, has a concept at least equally strange. Fonder deliberately makes the title character’s cat’s-head-on-a-human body completely unrealistic-looking, the head being quite obviously clumsily attached. The body itself is drawn much more realistically, and all the other human characters in the strip are also realistic – which means that Fonder knows how to draw people but, when it comes to Business Cat himself, chooses not to create a seamless (or even semi-seamless) blend of human and feline. The idea of the strip is that Business Cat is all cat when it comes to most of his habits and activities – but exists as a CEO in a human world. This means, for one thing, that he can get into deep trouble with the IRS, which is what happens in Hostile Takeovers – but that the government agents must conclude that “the state prohibits us from trying a cat in a court of law.” Does this mean that Business Cat gets away with having “named a stuffed animal head of accounting” and putting a scratching post (wearing a tie) in charge of Legal? Not really – he may not be prosecutable, but his company (here revealed to be called MiaoCo) is on the hook for so much in back taxes, interest and penalties that it goes bankrupt and is taken over by Business Cat’s hated rival, Business Dog (full name: Howard T. Business Pug). As is also revealed here, Business Cat and Business Dog are “manimals” (a wonderfully apt word), and they are not the only ones: after losing everything, Business Cat eventually ends up captured and imprisoned by Animal Control, and is placed in a cell with a big, beefy, heavily tattooed fellow inmate who has a teeny-tiny bird’s head and insists on being called “Princess Sparkle.” The way Business Cat gets out of stir and also arranges for Princess Sparkle to be freed, and the way the bird manimal repays the favor by undermining Business Dog, is just one of the bizarre delights of this strange and wonderful (maybe more strange than wonderful) book. Fonder fills the pages with sillinesses large and small – one small one, for example, is that assistants to the manimals who run major corporations are always name Jan (Janet, Janice, and Janine all make appearances). Another is that Business Cat and Business Dog are not the only manimal tycoons and rivals: there is also Business Crab, who engineers Business Cat’s eventual return to corporate life. But the point is that, no matter what these characters look like, their basic personalities are those of their animal parts. Thus, in the Animal Control prison, Princess Sparkle loses “jangly bell privileges” and is controlled by a guard who puts a towel over his bird’s head, resulting in instant sleep; and Business Cat is readily forced to be good by being threatened with a spritz of water. For those for whom the basic level of absurdity is not high enough, Fonder includes at the book’s end a series of additional panels showing what happens after the final panel of each sequence in the book. Some of those extra panels double the amusement of the strips, while others expand on individual strips’ themes. Business Cat: Hostile Takeovers is totally absurd, utterly ridiculous, and very much for adults – especially ones who have tried to share a home with a cat or have worked in an office where the boss just has to be some sort of manimal.