Humor, mystery and cruel birds: Three books from Hic & Hoc

Continuing my ever-ongoing look at new comics from relatively new publishers, here are three books I recently received from the New Jersey-based Hic & Hoc:

The Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor, edited by Lauren Barnett & Nathan Bulmer ($10): It's about time we had a decent humor-themed anthology; we're long overdue. While none of the contributions contained in this 64-page comic reaches the level of divinely inspired hilarity, there are nevertheless some pretty great contributions from folks like Noah Van Sciver, Bort, Sam Henderson, Grant Snider, Dustin Harbin and Julia Wertz. My favorite is probably a sex comic by Sam Spina in which the participants say the most bizarrely un-sexy things ("I have to tell the rainforest a secret," "Mash my bean bags"). The stories run from the outrageous to the gentle and observant but it all flows together nicely. Good job everyone. I look forward to the second volume.

Me Likes You Very Much by Lauren Barnett ($14): Here's a case of a cartoonist finding a unique niche and working the hell out of it. Just about every gag in this 192-page book involves fruit, vegetables and birds being absolutely horrid to each other. (Baby bird: "My tummy hurts." Mom bird: "That's because you're filled with lies.") Her art style is deliberately crude -- (her occasional realistic renderings of animals suggest she does have some genuine artistic talent -- which adds to the general absurdity of the gags. For the most part, this stuff is pretty funny, or at least funny enough to make you forgive the occasional weak punchline or just plain odd non sequitur. But while it goes down pretty quickly, I suspect these types of comics work best in small doses, i.e. a minicomic or thrice-weekly webcomic. I'm not sure this chunky book format offers the best sort of presentation for her work. That's not to say it's not worth reading. There's enough funny stuff here that will provide some good chuckles and the occasional guffaw. Perhaps it's just that I'd like to see her extend her reach a bit beyond the static one-panel gag format the next time she publishes something of this size.

Unknown Origins & Untimely Ends: A Collection of Unsolved Mysteries, edited by Emi Gennis ($12): Despite my praise for the Journal of Humor, I tend to be wary of themed anthologies, particularly those that wrap themselves around more concrete concepts like biography or history than more abstract ones like humor. Which basically goes to say that I found this book — focused on the idea of mysterious occurrences and deaths — to be a largely lackluster affair. Oh, there are a few exceptions, to be sure: Jenn Woodall is able to evokes a nice sense of dread in her story about the Aokigahara Forest, Box Brown adapts a rather interesting section of Deuteronomy, and Bobby Mono wrings some humor out of a story involving buried treasure. Overall, however, these renditions of peculiar happenings are told rather dully and simply with a "let the picture illustrate the text in the most obvious fashion" manner. I can see the appeal of a book like this, especially for up and coming cartoonists as it gives them a chance to hone their storytelling skills. But what's good for the artist isn't always good for the reader.

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