Tuesday, April 24, 2012


What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Cynicalman (Thunder Bass, 1987).

Matt Feazell's sort of like the Velvet Underground of comics. He may not have sold millions of his minicomics, but everybody who bought one from him has made their own. Heaven knows I did; even accepting that none of my comics were very good, the minis that I made in the late '80s really were a mess. However, fueled by Gary Larson, Jack Ziegler and Gahan Wilson, and inspired by Feazell's insistence that anybody can do this, many late-night runs to Kinko's in the pre-counter days came off the back of Cynicalman and the rest of the cast of Not Available Comics.

After several years of selling his photocopied comics, Feazell compiled most of them into a paperback edition. It was released by a company called Thunder Baas Press, and it doesn't seem to have been around very long. They released six issues of a comic book called The 39 Screams and this book, but nothing more that I could find. The collection's no-frills design almost makes sense, considering the DIY comics inside, but it really does look like a release from some vanity publisher more than anything else.

Perhaps surprisingly, this material has aged really well. It helps that, unconsciously, I ended up picking up some of Feazell's vocabulary and language. To me, cars simply go "ERT" when they brake. They just do. The stories are light little parodies of superhero tomfoolery, with Cynicalman grumpily pressed into battle with either Dr. Pweent or Antisocialman at the behest of either a fickle populace or some bureaucracy that demands his time.

It's actually a great little time capsule of Reagan's America; one strip shows Cynicalman flying a kid around the country to show the disparity between farmers who don't grow anything and children living in poverty, each simple little gut-punch punctuated by our hero shouting, "Scary, huh?" They're straw men and not discussed with nuance, but when we learned about social injustices such as these at the impressionable time in high school around 1986-87, nuance like this wasn't what we wanted.

The book devotes about half of its space to Cynicalman's adventures. Other characters, presented in conjunction with other writers and artists like Karen Majewski and Randy Carpenter, pop in, cross over and keep things surreal and silly. From Cutegirl's obsessions with beach parties and nice skirts to Plainman's conflicts with boys raised by ants, it is an unpredictable and odd set of comics.

This edition has been out of print for twenty-five years, but I found a copy in surprisingly good and sturdy shape at McKay in Chattanooga. Certainly recommended if you run across one.

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