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'Dumb Luck' on 'Sloppy Seconds' for 'Superman on the Couch': Three Book Reviews

Taylor Jessen takes a short look at Bill Plymptons Sloppy Seconds, Gary Basemans Dumb Luck and Danny Fingeroths Superman on the Couch.

Sloppiness and meticulousness share the stage in Bill Plymptons book.

Sloppiness and meticulousness share the stage in Bill Plymptons book.

Sloppy Seconds

by Bill Plympton

And how This is, the author asserts in the preface, The bottom of the barrel the dregs. He shouldnt be so hard on himself: a lot of gold has leached its way down. The Oscar-winning animator of Your Face and Plymptoons began his career as a cartoonist in New York in the 1970s, and his work for National Lampoon, Playboy and Screw magazines fills much of this recent book. If you didnt know Plympton dabbled in the dirty stuff, rent I Married a Strange Person before sampling this; theres a lot of sexually frank and extremely funny material here, including depictions of Yuppie Love, the pleasure/pain principle as illustrated by porcupines, and a game of Adult Musical Chairs thats guaranteed to stick in the memory.

Plymptons trademark surrealist whimsy is on display throughout, with body parts assuming the properties of Silly Putty as they stretch and suffer cookie-cutter holes. The keen-eyed will see many of the cartoons that inspired the moving-picture Plymptoons, including Human Crash Tests and the man with open pores.

Whats most interesting about Sloppy Seconds is not the contrast of family-friendly versus ah-whooooga! but slapdash versus meticulous. Doodles that dropped on the author like Satori and were scratched out pronto before evaporating share the pages with some painstakingly detailed, gorgeously classy graphic design. In particular, the series of seven caricatures of cars and their owners that closes the book is captivating eye candy, drawn in the all-but-extinct early 70s style of ultra-clean lines and pointilist dotted fills.

Sloppy Seconds, as well as the authors other cartoon collections We Eat Tonight!, Tube Strips and The Sleazy Cartoons of Bill Plympton, are available at the authors Website (www.plymptoons.com).

Samples of Gary Basemans beautiful artwork fill the pages.

Samples of Gary Basemans beautiful artwork fill the pages.

Dumb Luck

by Gary Baseman

Theres a great quote from syndicated cartoonist Kaz in the new Gary Baseman art book Dumb Luck: Ive never seen a painter make torture, agony, melancholy and death look so goddamned delightful. Normally Id make that precise assertion about Kaz, but I must agree with him here: just spy Basemans cheery painting of an anthropomorphized bunny and carrot, both of whom are all smiles even as the carrot sports a cartoon CHOMP indentation in its forehead. Looking at this menacing yet pleasant composition in lilac, orange, green, pink and blue, I find myself thinking: Boy, Id love to be EITHER of those two right now.

In Gary Basemans world, the week runs Easter, Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Piñatas, Day of the Mannequin Glove Display Hands, Saturday (morning only) and Pete the Pup. There are three or four dominant colors in his palette, and if you asked to have your car painted in one the man at the body shop would tell you Dude, they stopped mixing that in 68. This is a world of dogs and devils, sausage noses and varicose veins, clean thick lines and tall oval eyes with mungo dilated pupils.

Baseman is a former legal intern who chucked the attorney career path somewhere around LSAT time 10 years ago to pursue graphic design in New York City. He achieved notoriety for his magazine illustrations before landing his most high-profile gig, creator of Teachers Pet for Disney, first in the form of a kidvid series and then the attendant movie of early 2004. (Sadly, the feature didnt originate with Disney Feature Animation so the suits-that-be couldnt be bothered to spring for an advertising budget, and it tanked. Now buy the DVD.) A section of Dumb Luck is chock-a-block with Teachers Pet original art; the fact that these works, laboring as they do under the harness of Disney copyright, are in the book at all is a testament to Basemans self-assertion as an artist, or a byproduct of his legal prowess, or probably both.

This is a gorgeous, ample book of Basemans original paintings, surveying early and recent work, and youll need to control yourself and not tear out pages to decorate your living or working area. (The obvious next step is a companion volume designed for consumption. Hello Chronicle a postcard book please?) Perhaps the best aspect is that among the vivid color reproductions and quotes from friends and critics, there are photos of the found objects that fill Basemans workspace and inspire him daily, as well as found photographs from his collection, turning speculative thoughts about his influences into concrete reality.

Danny Fingeroth delves into the superhero myth.

Danny Fingeroth delves into the superhero myth.

Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us about Ourselves and Our Society

by Danny Fingeroth

Superheores are part of every animators life. Some artists labor to make the real thing, with tongue nowhere near the vicinity of cheek (Justice League); some make piss-takes on the genre (Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law). But even if youre animating a character who only thinks hes super, there was almost certainly a time in your life when you bought plastic bags, filled them with the stapled and folded ephemera of the comic book industry, and hid them from younger siblings. Comics are part of why you chose your job, and the bulk of comic books deal with the comings and goings of superheroes. In Superman on the Couch from former Marvel writer Danny Fingeroth, the superhero genre, and various superhero heavies from the 1930s to the present day, are put under a microscope, and the personality traits they share and dont share are used to demonstrate our own longings and what we crave from our fictional characters.

Fingeroth does reserve his most in-depth analysis for Marvel characters they were his bailiwick, after all but besides the major superhero comic anchors of Batman, Superman, Hulk, Wonder Woman, and the Fantastic Four, he devotes discussion quite generously across a spectrum of characters from all publishers and all media. The obvious lessons that can be drawn from our love of superheroes um, they do things we wish we could but cant, you see is illuminated and expounded in a dozen unexpected ways from the literate and much-needed historical outlook of a lifetime student of comics. The crucial functions of dual identities, origin stories, sidekicks, and costumes in the superhero mythos are investigated at length, informed by a perspective honed on popular storytelling techniques going back to Gilgamesh.

Even if you think youve graduated from the seemingly simple wish-fulfillment story arcs of the classic comic-book plots of your childhood, youd do well to read this book because what you want hasnt really changed at all; your fondest wish to be invisible, defy time and space, or turn the school bully into a llama merely ran into the brick wall of reality. The stories we tell now, whether dramatic or comedic, all have something to do with saving the day; its time to revisit that pulpy goodness of the superhero idiom and understand what drives the superhero in order to gain a fresh perspective on our current heroes, be they Wolverine or Strong Bad.

Sloppy Seconds by Bill Plympton. New York, NY: Plymptoons Publishing, 2003. 180 pages. ISBN: 0-9652075-4-4. $12.

Dumb Luck: The Art of Gary Baseman by Gary Baseman. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2004. 238 pages. ISBN: 0-8118-4423-4. $40.

Superman on the Couch by Danny Fingeroth. New York, NY: Continuum Publishing, 2004, 192 pages. ISBN: 0-8264-1540-7. $19.95.

Taylor Jessen is a writer living in Burbank. He shares his neighborhood with a pair of thieving magpies, who steal his ideas, and a flock of feral parrots, who are secretly building a hybrid car.

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