Sunday, September 05, 2010

Masterpiece Comics (2009)

R. Sikoryak's often pitch-perfect parodies are actually twofold. On the one hand, he is goofing on various classics of world literature: Wuthering Heights, The Scarlet Letter, Crime and Punishment, The Metamorphosis, the Bible's Book of Genesis, Dante's Inferno, Candide. On the other, he is using the classic materials of comic strips and comic books to do so. All indications are that his greatest affinities personally are for the comics—the details he brings so lovingly to his send-ups, not to mention his evident immersion in and absorption of their subtlest distinctions, are often just plain startling, right down to the advertisements that show up as well. Bazooka Joe stands in as Inferno Joe for the Dante, for example, the epic poem reduced to a set of 10 bubblegum strips, complete with merchandising offers (three-headed dog collar, road map of hell, Franciscan rope) and one-line fortunes ("A winged beast will take you for a ride"). Dagwood and Blondie are recast as Adam and Eve ("Blonde Eve"), with Mr. Dithers taking the role of the omnipotent one in a nifty and anatomically correct series of Sunday strips. The novels tend not to fare as well—Wuthering Heights as a trilogy of EC Comics tales is an obvious strategy, but the story stubbornly refuses to collapse well into the format, and as a result is more confusing than anything. That's arguably a problem with the actual EC tales themselves, but still, that's not really a good enough excuse. Batman as Raskolnikov is a bit more effective, and Little Lulu even better and often inspired as Hester Prynne. Modern literature presents its own problems and triumphs as Charlie Brown gets the Kafka treatment ("Good Ol' Gregor Brown") and Superman wantonly and callously puffs cigarettes, taking the role on a series of covers for a comic book called "Action Camus" of the French cipher who shot an Arab for no particular reason. This is dense work, often worth studying closely, a page or even a panel at a time. And it's rarely laugh-out-loud funny. Instead, it's so inventive and ingenious that it's often wonderful just to contemplate the deft and clever ways that Sikoryak brings so many various strands together, like a miraculous juggling act on a tightrope, something to stare at in gap-mouthed awe.

In case it's not at the library.

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