Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Milk & Cheese

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 Milk & Cheese (Dark Horse, 2011).

This has got to be one of the most repetitive, one-note strips that I have ever loved, but it's not as though its creator, Evan Dorkin, doesn't know that all too well. About two-thirds of the way through this book, which reprints dozens and dozens of these short strips where Milk, a small carton of hate, and Cheese, an equally short wedge of spite, angrily, gleefully and indestructibly take out their wrath in gory, grisly, hilarious fashion against whomever has pissed them off lately, we come to one of my very favorite of all the strips. It's a simple one page story where Dorkin draws himself having a telephone conversation with somebody about how incredibly tiring it is to keep churning these ridiculous things out. There's no character development, no ongoing stories, nothing whatever that keeps an artist interested and invested in staying with his creations. "They barely sustain a two-page strip," Dorkin says, before recounting a clueless television executive's inquiry about selling the rights to the characters for a children's show, literally unaware that Milk and Cheese are foul-mouthed, murderous alcoholics.

I'm of two minds about Dark Horse's recent collection of the strip, which, heaven knows, was overdue for retirement a while ago. There have not been any new Milk & Cheese stories for quite some time, and, hopefully, this nice hardback will serve as the complete and definitive edition. I can't praise Dark Horse enough for doing this so well; it is a fine package, priced right at twenty dollars, and seems to contain every single published appearance of the duo, along with lots of bonus material. The reproduction is top-notch, on very good paper.

But, oh, reading these again. What is repetitive by the end of a single twenty-something comic book is completely exhausting after two hundred. About halfway through, I stopped reading and just looked at the art. I'm not sure that I missed anything; I had read these all before, years ago, and again, minutes previously. It's not just the same joke, it's the same delivery. Well, there are slight changes. In time, Dorkin seems to sic Milk and Cheese on particular subcultures rather than just society-at-large. The double-barreled attack on RenFesters is amazingly funny throughout, and he comes up with such ridiculous profanities and epithets that, even inured to the same-old violence, continue to get me laughing. I'm not sure that I've ever come across a funnier exclamation of shock than "Jackals of Botswana!"

It is quite neat seeing Dorkin's art evolve. He started out in the late eighties with a much thinner line and fewer solids, but he did not sacrifice any detail as his work tightened up. I really like the way that Dorkin is such a rounded cartoonist that his lettering is every bit as important as the rest of the material. I recall seeing one of his Simpsons comics for Bongo and feeling that it just looked completely wrong because the lettering was the Bongo house style and not his own.

In other words, then, it is a terrific collection, and one done with love and a sense towards pleasing the most anal-retentive and nitpicky of commentators. (I suspect, to be honest, that might actually be me.) But, much like a huge, 50-disc brick of a DVD set containing every single Three Stooges film, this is the sort of enterprise that many will start, but very few will finish. Recommended in small doses, with a couple of weeks' break after each chapter.


Jim Purcell said...

"There have not been any new Milk & Cheese stories for quite some time"

FYI There are new Milk & Cheese strips running in Dark Horse Presents right now. Along with new Murder Family and Fun. So this collection is already not 'definitive'.

Bob Temuka said...

I was so excited to see this in the store, I did a little jig of joy. I honestly think Milk & Cheese is always funny.