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GAG ON THIS: THE SCROFULOUS CARTOONS OF CHARLES RODRIGUES

Gag On This: The Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues

By (of course) Charles Rodrigues
edited by Gary Groth and Bob Fingerman, who supplies a short biography of the cartoonist (pasted to the inside front and back covers in an effort, no doubt, to devote as all of the book’s actual pages to Rodrigues’ comedic masterpieces)
Introduction by Sam Gross
428 6x6-inch pages, b/w
2015 Fantagraphics hardover
$34.99

Gag on This coverYou can read all 422 of Rodrigues’s cartoons in about an hour — if you don’t pause too long to try to figure out the implications of some of the pictures — but in whatever remains of your lifetime, you’ll never forget what you will see and probably laugh at in this book. The blurb on the back cover completes the fulsome description of the volume’s content:

“Charles Rodrigues was one of the fiercest, most audacious, taboo-busting cartoonists who ever lived, and Fantagraphics’ second collection of his cartoons from the National Lampoon may be the most jaw-droppingly irreverent collection of gag cartoons ever published.

“There was no subject Rodrigues wouldn’t tackle and none he couldn’t make funny. There is no example of human suffering, misery, tragedy, or absurdity that is off limits. Gag on This is not a book for the ideologically sanctimonious, the genteel souls of middle America, or the humorless. But, if you have learned to simultaneously laugh and cry at the unending folly of human existence, you will have found your solace and your penance in Charles Rodrigues’ Gag on This.”

That, still, doesn’t quite do Rodrigues justice. In his Introduction, Gross lists over 60 “scabrous” subjects Rodrigues wasn’t timid about approaching, beginning with blind people and ending with public toilets, Rodrigues cartoonorgasms and bicycle seats, including along the way cripples, spastics, bedwetting, murder, voyeurism, menstruation, enemas, bestiality, feces, sexual aids and cannibalism—to name a few.

The first collection of Rodrigues’ National Lampoon cartoons published by Fantagraphics (in 2013), Ray and Joe: The Story of a Man and His Dead Friend (another 200-odd pages of comical vomitus) is the story of a man and his dead friend. Not easy to forget. But you don’t need to have read that book to enjoy the crop of his work harvested for this volume.

This volume is made up entirely of one-panel cartoons — the oft-dubbed “gag cartoons.” And most of these will, as promised by the title, nudge you the direction of gagging. The 2013 collection, on the other hand, was made up of comic-book style comic strips. A different appreciation experience altogether but still often gag-inducing.

More, perhaps, than the work of any other cartoonist, in Rodrigues’ cartoons the pictures are vital to the comedy. Without the picture, there’s no joke. Beyond picturing the key pictorial element of some aspect of what the cartoonist finds amusing, his pictures are crammed with minute detail. And since so much of the humor in the cartoons in this volume arises from pictures without words, if some visual detail is obscurely rendered (or not very visible due to flaws in reproduction or the clarity of source material)—as happens, but rarely—you’ll be momentarily baffled until you discern what that scrap of art actually represents. I’ve included one or two such puzzlers in the array that follows (seeing a few Rodrigues specimens is the best way of reviewing this book), beginning with what the editors of National Lampoon denominated the funniest cartoon ever done. I agree (but you have to be male to fully comprehend the comedy).

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RodriguesDeadFriend

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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