I’m happy to report that Tales Designed to Thrizzle‘s dalliance with being not-that-funny has proven blessedly brief. After the disappointingly non-berserk sixth issue, Thrizzle returns to form with lucky number seven — and of all things, it seems like Christopher Nolan’s Inception provided the catalyst.
My problem with cartoonist Michael Kupperman’s work in the previous issue wasn’t a visual one. Kupperman’s line and figure work were as preternaturally precise as ever, their murky thickness only serving to enhance the impression that the drawings were unceremoniously stamped onto the page by the automated drawing mechanism of some kind of mid-20th-century comics-making machine. Rather it was the writing that failed him; a rarity, to be sure. But the torrent of concepts that characterized Kupperman’s other comics work — cramming as many ridiculous ideas as possible into a single strip, then following the shrapnel from the resulting collision as it blasts out into totally unpredictable, even more ridiculous tangents — was largely gone. It was simply too straightforward.
That’s where Inception comes in. I’ve described director Christopher Nolan’s movies as what stupid people think smart movies look like; Michael Kupperman’s comics are the opposite, stupid comics made by a smart person for smart people, so perhaps there’s some yin-yang resonance there. Regardless, Kupperman recognized Inception‘s Russian-nesting-doll structure of dreams within dreams within dreams as natural connective tissue for his stream-of-consciousness comedy, in which one gag doesn’t so much segue into another as uncover the latter within itself — in other words, it doesn’t feel like the jokes have been laid end to end, it feels like you reach each new joke by burrowing deeper into the previous one. To wit in this case: Jack Klugman’s famous crime-solving medical examiner Quincy spends part of his self-titled comic-book adventure visiting Saint Peter (who looks suspiciously like Ian McKellen’s Gandalf), and then reads Saint Peter’s own comic book, in which their current meeting is also depicted. But that’s not really what’s happening: Quincy’s trapped in his own dream. We have achieved, as Leonardo DiCaprio calls it when he shows up out of nowhere to explain things, “Quinception.”
As you can tell from that gloriously lame pun, Inception also provides Kupperman with the grist of simply taking the piss out of the flick’s particulars: For example, an exhausted Quincy takes advantage of the lengthening properties of dream-time to catch up on his Z’s by going to sleep inside the dream. Even the movie’s besuited sartorial sense helps Kupperman make his absurd connections. When the dream-sleeping Quincy dreams again, this time of another group of sharp-dressed criminals, we’re treated to a Reservoir Dogs sequel in which the gang deals with unwelcome cameos from Michael Caine in Get Carter and, yes, Quincy himself. Clad only in a towel for some reason. Which becomes a real problem when he’s later asked to accept a Nobel Prize for Forensic Medicine.
It’s a cat’s cradle of interconnected ridiculousness, peppered with equally goofy throwaway gags: a photo fumetto about a gateway to Narnia in a closet filled with obviously non-Narnia dress shirts on hangers; an editorial cartoon slamming the collusion of the light bulb industry with the printed-materials-that-require-light-to-be-read industry (“Arm” reads the helpful label on an arm in the cartoon); Mark Twain getting high and taking a shit behind a dumpster with his ne’er-do-well cousin Larry because hey, “It’s the Seventies!”; strips that mine the surprisingly fecund comedic potential of bathtubs and shower heads. The frisson of basing entire routines around pop-culture references of such minor current cultural currency as Quincy and Reservoir Dogs is a hoot, too. It’s nice to hold documentary evidence of Kupperman’s comic genius in my hands again.
OR IS IT???