Humor in any medium is delicate, but especially so in novels or comics, where a joke must literally be spelled out. These mediums provide precious little help from timing, delivery, or any other human connection to help audiences sympathize with a joke’s teller. Also, as with any narrative, one bad joke early might sour a reader to all that follows. Humor, simply put, is risky.
For those reasons, I don’t often read humor comics. No Deadpool or Harley Quinn for me, and I often shrug when well-meaning friends recommend the genre. My track record with being glad that I read a humor comic is not great. I do, however, fancy myself a relentless optimist (as it pertains to comics, anyway), and so here I am with a trio of new comics discoveries for May that all have to do with humor.
If I were a funnier writer, I might try a joke here, but I know my limitations so I will instead end while still slightly ahead...onward!
Rock Candy Mountain #1 - #4 by Kyle Starks & Chris Schweizer
This book (which was recommended to me by Dan Grotes of WMQ Comics, by way of Will Nevin) is nothing short of a revelation, one of the funniest and most straight-up entertaining comics I’ve read in some time. Set in 1948, Rock Candy Mountain is a story of a devils and hobos and one-on-one combat, and it’s absolutely hilarious.
The story opens on a guy who is clearly the devil (we can tell because he has horns and is also red) literally shredding a ring of hobos. Satan is in search of a man named Jackson. When he’s done with the shredding, he realizes he’s left none alive to interrogate, remarking to himself, “I certainly goofed that one.” We eventually meet Jackson, as well as his new friend Pomona Slim, a failed actor trying to get home from Hollywood (by way of Pomona), who becomes the readers' window into 1948 hobo-dom. And we’re off to the absurd races from there. The thing I like most about Rock Candy Mountain, however, is how if you stripped the humor away, there would still be a compelling story at the core.
You can tell that Kyle Starks, the auteur who both writes and draws here, has put a substantial amount of both research and thought into this work. The world of post-war train jumping and drifting is well realized, and the driving plot of a man who sold his soul to the devil and is trying to find paradise for his family before it comes due is relatable, to be sure. The real heart of this story, though, is the buddy dynamic between hirsute, inscrutable Jackson and kind-but-unlucky Pomona.
Overall: Rock Candy Mountain's clever wit comes from a big-hearted place, one that reminds us of how at its best this medium can be fun and poignant. This book’s sensibilities could be described as grown up Calvin and Hobbes with way more hobos (plus some tramps, because as Starks points out, there’s a difference).
Punks Not Dead #1 - #4 by David Barnett & Martin Simmonds
Punks Not Dead, one of the vanguard of ex-Vertigo editor Shelly Bond’s new IDW imprint Black Crown—is a supernatural coming-of-age story that’s brimming with dry British wit. The concept itself is amusing: schlubby teen Fergie finds himself tethered to the ghost of deceased Sex Pistol’s bass player/vocalist Sid Vicious. Hijinx ensue.
Full disclosure: I went through high school lost in punk rock and comics (and later skating and hip hop), so I’m predisposed to like this book, although it’s been a couple decades since I was proudly into punk rocking. This, however, is a smartly-written book that thrives when it hits its greatest heights of bizarre, such as any scene involving Britain’s Department of Extra-Usual Affairs, or when the ghost and Fergie try to separate from each other.
Writer David Barnett and artist Martin Simmonds embrace the dynamics in this book with a reckless abandon, interlacing them with the aforementioned witty remarks, which makes a concept that could come off as cliched read incredibly charming (side note, I seriously considered putting Tini Howard and the legendary Gilbert Hernandez’s Assassinistas on this list, which expertly blends femme fatale badassery with a decades-long family drama, but I may write in greater length about that book in the future, so I kept that in my pocket).
Overall: There’s an odd universality to this ghost story, one that anyone who has turned to music during times of loneliness and alienation will surely relate to.
Great line: “This smells of something a bit more than Teen Spirit.”
Galactic Junk Squad #1 by David Moses LeNoir
Galactic Junk Squad has an old school, Stan Lee enthusiasm to it, embracing the high science fiction concepts of the far cosmos as well as alliterative exclamations in equal part. This is evident from the early pages, wherein the artist’s gaze pulls us through interstellar landscapes as we slowly become aware of two voices arguing, two bumbling brothers, as it were.
Their tone soon becomes meta, as they debate their own character names and an editor’s note lets us know time in this world is measured by how long it takes between issues. Galactic Junk Squad soon reveals itself to be a family drama in which the members of the family look like Kirby-esque celestial beings. The family has been tasked with collecting artifacts of the past by a so-far-unseen power.
More importantly, though it’s a high-minded and hilarious story, one rich with sitcom tropes on top of a grittier version of Kirby’s New Gods.
Overall: Galactic Junk Squad is one of those rare and fantastic comics wherein you can almost feel writer/artist David Moses LeNoir having fun, the sort of fun that you can’t help joining as a reader. This is a witty book with a true reverence for the comic tradition that it is apart of, and I highly recommend checking it out.
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.