Page 45 Review by Stephen
It's big and it's heavy, and so handy for settling arguments.
Was there ever a more pugilistic creator of comics? I think not!
I don't mean that the man pulled on boxing gloves to pack a punch: he did that far more effectively by picking up a pen, perhaps a brush, then bulldozing right over the wrongful with righteous, well-aimed, lacerating wit.
His targets deserved every ounce of antagonism.
So much of it was aimed at ambition-deficient, service-stinting, male-centric, superhero-only comic shops and the wider, US/UK cul-de-sac comicbook industry at large from corporation-colluding distributors to rancid conventions and even the alternative "elite". This once manifested itself in the form of a series of hypothetical trading cards, so using the very nadir of this industry's vapid, self-referential collection-obsession to satirise its complete lack of integrity and soul.
You don't even know what a trading card is, do you? Quite right too!
But overwhelmingly Dorkin also drew from - and threw satirical ire at - more popular culture while railing that comics wasn't, like prose, film, television and music, and I have never forgotten this early attack on supposed non-conformists emulating each other like homogenised sheep. It was called "Hey, everybody - are you Ready To Alternative Rock?"
"We are all expressing our individuality!" cries each style-clone-copy of the other in unison.
He was equally scathing about raves:
"Look out! It simply won't stop! The wackiest non-social dance craze since the mosh pit! It works like this - strobes, lasers, drugs, and Kraftwerk albums played on 78rpm causes widespread mass teenage epilepsy!"
DORK was a breath of fresh air, breaking our windows then rending our curtains, slapping us all wide-awake with angry art that bore into your eyes. Each issue was such a dense, value-for-money read, taking well over a year to construct, some containing over one hundred four-panel gags.
"Today's question: are people less intelligent today than in the past?"
"Um.. YES! Wait... NO! Uh - what was the question again?"
"How they hell should I know? I dunno... I mean, how they hell should I know, hah?!?"
Lastly, with a shrug: "What's the past?"
It's just crack after crack after crack.
Fly News For Flies: "Our top story tonight -- once again, millions are dead..."
Morning Sickness: girl wakes up - "Oh shit! I slept with him?" - and throws up on the oaf.
Mourning Sickness: girl wakes up - "Oh shit! I slept with him?!" - and throws up over the skeleton.
It's funny, it's filthy (it really is filthy), and irreverent as hell, as seen from the clouds above in 'At Home With The Man Upstairs', when God reads his Bible:
"That day will be a day of wrath... I will bring distress upon people... their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung."
"Christ. Did I really say that?
"I must have been half in the bag that day. That's crazy talk!"
'At Home With Houdini' was even funnier, as the revered escapologist sought to extricate himself from nothing more tricky than his coat and hat.
Amongst so very many new ideas in each instalment, several were reprised, like 'Myron, The Living Voodoo Doll'. It's the same joke in different iterations, over and over again, but it never stops being funny.
Step 1: Myron strays into dangerous territory (dog-defended alleyway, an ice rink or thunder storm).
Step 2: Myron comes a-cropper (savagely attacked, sliced in two or given the world's worst Van de Graaff Generator experience).
Step 3: Bloke whom Myron is attuned to suffers identical injuries. "God, I have to find that doll!"
The joke is that he never does, and we know that he never will. "That @£$% doll!"
Another recurrent thread was 'Fisher-Price Theatre' in which the real-world Fisher-Price toys (limbless, wooden, barely distinguishable and cylindrical clones with no elements of articulation whatsoever) acted out the most complex and nuanced novels, poetry and plays which humankind has ever conceived at various lengths (that length itself being often so satirical): 'Of Mice And Men', 'The Lottery', 'The Wasteland' and even 'Catcher In The Rye'.
From the man responsible for MILK & CHEESE and THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB comes a complete collection of pithy short strips and longer comics from the 11-issue DORK series minus appearances from the above and his much-missed work with Kyle Baker, 'Critics At Large'. For the last, I can lend you my copy of DORK #2, published six months before Page 45 opened some 24 years ago. There's plenty of new stuff here to take their place including most of the full-colour THE HOUSE OF FUN one-shot reviewed at the bottom so, yes, more MILK & CHEESE!
Over a dozen years ago, our Mark wrote something I've long held to be true, which is why I'm going to great lengths to attempt to give Dorkin his due. Much to my astonishment I've managed to find that paragraph in the depths of my personal archives:
"There was something in the latest Comics Journal about the great humour cartoonists around at the moment and how they are largely unappreciated in the comics field. It's much easier to praise a book with deep, deep thoughts that holds a mirror up to humanity blah blah blah than it is to say, "This is funny!" This is partly because there are precious few yuks in the largely dominant superhero world and those outside of the superhero world tend to lay praise on the serious story. Luckily there are almost enough artists who want to make us laugh out there. We've got Henderson, Ryan, Herschbaum, Langridge and, right at the top, Evan Dorkin. Even in the depths of depression (DORK #7) it's a laff riot, although we may be questioning if we're supposed to be laughing. And the answer should be, yes. He's right on the button with social commentary, pop culture attacks and general laffs. Which is what we need at the moment. 'Kay?"
I remember Mark and I being more than a little worried (horrified) for Evan's health when DORK #7 was first published. An experiment in extemporisation, it was one of Dorkin's bravest and most complex narratives, immaculately executed with remarkable lucidity as he emptied onto the page so many of the very real anxieties which gnawed at him daily, and which eventually culminated in a full-blown mental breakdown.
The white-on-black page was terrifying enough. On it, Evan descended an endless set of banisterless stairs in total darkness, carrying a full glass of unknown liquid in each hand, terrified of losing his balance and spilling anything.
"If I fall I might never stop falling...
"This is all I can think about with each and every complex step. What makes it worse is - I don't know how much farther down I have to go...
"And I have no idea where the steps are taking me."
The last line is the killer.
"This is not a dream... this is the way it is."
After which we get to his fear of bad paper cuts, thence to razor blades and beyond.
That wasn't in his preparatory layouts, it's just where he went and, as I say, it was remarkably coherent considering that he was constantly interrupting himself with digressions before reining himself in with remarkable fluency and fluidity. Then the all-too pervasive Devil Puppet begins adding his own commentary, a hostile audience starts heckling, and Dorkin's work at the drawing board becomes disparaged - as he creates it! - by a trio of imaginary critics, the first of whom here appears in a beret and sunglasses, the second in a top hat, puffing on a cigar and squinting through $ signs.
"Do you really think that line works?"
"Leave it alone, it works well enough - "
"It's a terrible line. It's stiff, didactic and unfunny. It should be re-written."
"He's already re-written it twelve times because of you! Twice on paste-downs! Don't you realize how late this goddamned book is?!"
"Fine, then, put out a piece of garbage. Ruin what little reputation he has - let them laugh at him rather than with him!"
Even visually it's flashing from one style to another depending on what is required. Yet, as Mark commented, the comic was still comical...
"Random Thought #1
"When Edison came up with the idea of the light bulb... did he see one above his head when the notion hit him?"
Evan draws an iconic 'eureka moment' light bulb, then a flaming candle as a possible alternative. Edison clutches a 'To Do' list. "1) Invent 2) Fuck Tesla over patent."
And it was still topical...
"You know when there's some bullshit sports fan riot after some stupid championship game that their dumb local team's won?"
Yes, we do! Jodie and I witnessed the Nottingham city centre carnage on Saturday July 7th 2018 first-hand... after England won a match.
"Our piss-poor lives have been given meaning!"
"We're #1 even tho' we didn't do anything!"
"Dallas is the best! Let's trash it!"
There you go.
"Here's what I think should be done, while those clueless Neanderthals revel over their tribal bullshit... Helicopters should dump dyes - like those the banks use to mark stolen money - all over the stupid fucking mob of monkey fucks. Then, days later, the police can still identify the morons because they're still marked by the ASSHOLE PAINT © and lock their pathetic asses up for, oh, for fucking ever."
Dorkin provides an all-new autobiographical introduction to this collection, succinctly distilling his interests, ambitions, influences and career into two taut pages. Amongst his early interests was mouthing off at the back of the classroom, and amongst those early ambitions was to perform stand-up comedy. But he kept that to himself because, well, you have to do stand-up on a stage. As DORK #7 might suggest to you, he's a wee bit too self-conscious to do that.
"See, mouthing off from the back of a classroom isn't the same as working a room. It's more like heckling than performing."
So essentially, Evan's still mouthing off from the back of the classroom.
For which I'm eternally grateful, otherwise we'd not have one of the funniest pages I have ever read in my life, called 'Rock, Paper, Scissors', which could never be performed anywhere other than on the paper page. See topmost interior art.
In summary, I doff my cap to the man who, against all odds, has never given up on himself or on comics, but has instead thrown himself so ferociously again and again from within the industry, at an industry which so suicidally surfed against his tide and tirades, like no one else in the business.
Time for some more laffs, gleaned from the HOUSE OF FUN one-shot, This one's for you, Mark!
"When life gives you lemons
"Punch life in the fucking face!"
More maniacal malfeasance from MILK & CHEESE, The Murder Family, Bad Rabbi, Shitty Witch And Crappy Cat, Myron The Living Voodoo Doll and - coming soon! - Hank Jenkins, Chronic Masturbator. ("Yes indeed. I spill the seed."). No one packs in more to a page than Dorkin. His mind fizzes with lateral-thinking lunacy.
Read 'A Day In the Life Of Milk & Cheese'! There's a certain consistency to it. It's the consistency of blood-curdled milk. See them being sent a "Cease & Desist", sued by the Disney Corporation! And here they've distracted themselves from burning down the house with the prospect of X-Ray Spex:
"I must say, it seems a little silly to send away for an item advertised in a decades-old comic."
"The contrivance excites and delights me. It's a gap in logic worthy of George Lucas."
8-10 weeks later.
"Aha! Yes! This is it! Our eyes now have mad skillz!"
"I can see through everything now! Feng Shui! Scientology! 'Family Guy'!"
"Science is wicked! What will it think of next?"
"Genocide boots, I hope!"
Also: The Murder Family ("The family that slays together stays together!") is threatened by some late-night, extra-marital mutilation, but before then Ma Murder tries to set standards for son Dougie's version of courtship:
"You weren't over at that Judy Pilkington's house again, were you? You know I don't approve of her."
"Aw, no, Mom! She got a court order! I'm stalking a new girl now, Vanessa Dobkin! You'd like her. She's vulnerable!"