Saturday, September 27, 2008

From the vault: God Hates Cartoons

Note: This review originally appeared in issue #252 of the Comics Journal

“God Hates Cartoons
Bright Red Rocket


If I were to tell you about a new comic anthology featuring work by such artists as Tony Millionaire, Sam Henderson, Ivan Brunetti, Kaz, Walt Holcombe and Jim Woodring, no doubt many of you would be quickly updating your Christmas list. If I were to tell you that said artists’ work was featured not in a comic, but in a new collection of animated shorts, just released on DVD, no doubt many more of you would be doubly intrigued, if not reaching for your wallets.

Well, slow down there pardner, put that billfold back in your pocket. The sad truth is that while such a DVD, “God Hates Cartoons from a company called Bright Red Rocket, does indeed exist, the whole is a good deal less than the sum of its parts.

The compendium starts off strong with a particularly funny contribution from Mark Newgarden. “Cartoons and You” is an amusing parody of a public-service announcement, featuring a chirping little doodle that warns us of the dangers of watching too many animated shorts.

The collection quickly deteriorates from there, however, with “My Friend God” a tired superhero parody involving action figures that’s been done to the point where you can see this type of thing on Nickelodeon.

Other, more notable contributions fare little better. By all accounts, Sam Henderson’s “Lonely Robot Duckling” should be a laugh-filled affair. After all, the original material it’s based off of was great. Yet this adaptation comes off as strangely muted. The timing seems off and the pacing is uneven, even though the whole thing only lasts about two minutes. Overall, it feels amateurish in the bad sense of the word, which is odd since it comes from someone who works on SpongeBob SquarePants (there’s Nickelodeon again).

Tony Millionaire’s “Maakies” are short run-and-go segments lifted straight from the strip. While it’s great to see Millionaire’s work in full color, the segments, again, seem stilted and not nearly as manic or funny as the original material.

And so it goes. Even at a little under an hour, “God Hates Cartoons” feels too long. Virtually every contribution comes off slow or awkward, and the variety of sophomoric toilet humor seemed too obvious or trite to garner so much as a guffaw from me (the two Kaz pieces barely even resemble the original strip).

It’s odd perhaps that what I once laughed at on paper somehow seems so humorless when animated. It could be just a result of poor translation, but to some extent I think there are other forces at work here. Just as you can get away with a certain level of violence and satire in a cartoon that you could never do in a film using live actors (at least not without a great deal of difficulty), so too can what seems offensive but funny in a comic strip come off as just offensive in an animated cartoon. There’s something about reading Ivan Brunetti’s “Diaper Dyke and Captain Boyfuck” strips vs. watching the characters move and talk through my TV. Somehow that distance needed to keep that kind of edgy humor alive has been breached and it falls flat.

The only two bright spots in the collection come from Walt Holcombe and Jim Woodring. Holcombe’s “The Courtship of Sniffy LaPants” beautifully captures the blend of melancholy and slapstick familiar to readers of “Poot.” On top of that it’s the best looking of the bunch as well, with wonderfully stylized animation and brilliant use of color. And it’s pretty funny too.

Jim Woodring’s “Whimgrinder,” meanwhile, is everything you’ve come to expect from a “Frank” story. Disturbing, evocative, black humor amidst a surreal and treacherous landscape. Though only a few seconds long and soundless, it manages to do what none of the other cartoons do, leave you wanting more.

Those who purchase DVDs for their extra features will no doubt be doubly disappointed with “God Hates Cartoons” as there are no real special features to speak of, barring some text biographies of the cartoonists involved. Some artists, like Kaz have included slide shows of their various artwork, but by and large it’s a no-frills affair. Would it really have been that difficult to include interviews with the various creators talking about their contributions?

Normally at this point in the review I’d say just rent the damn thing, if for no other reason than to see the Woodring and Holcombe pieces. Yet I doubt whether your local Blockbuster or Hollywood video store will carry such an obscure item. Part of me wants to say just buy the thing anyway, since you’d be showing your support for a number of struggling artists and Bright Red Rocket seems like a nice company that wants to expose people to good work. The fact remains though; that your $25 would be better spent buying up the original comics by these individual authors than on this DVD. So how about this then: If you’ve got everything else by all of these contributors, and you absolutely, positively need to have more, even if it’s not very good stuff, then get this DVD. But only then.



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