David Lynch’s The Angriest Dog In The World comic strip was a low-effort proposition for both artist and audience. A reader of an alt-weekly in which it ran could easily skip over it. The first panel of every installment was all text, and then it was followed by three identical images, of a backyard during the day, wherein the titular dog was leashed, and a fourth, showing the backyard at night, the dog still there, still angry. Nothing about it invited the eye save the name of the creator, famous for his work in film and television. For Lynch’s part, presumably busy on set, the content is phoned in, literally: Lynch would call an assistant and instruct them as to what the text, emanating from word balloons coming from the house, would be that week. Occasionally it would be a joke, but not always, and even the jokes fell flat enough to be considered anti-humor.
The larger premise of the strip, outlined every strip by an all-text first panel, is, at least, something to contemplate: The anger of the dog is so strong that he has pulled his leash taut, and his teeth are gritted, and he growls, but there is no movement beyond that. This idea is horrifying in some ways, comical in others, and so fits into the larger Lynch oeuvre if contemplated as a stand-alone image. The actual dialogue, emanating from the house, allows for Lynch to show his sense of humor, but the sheer repetition makes it clear pretty quickly that what you are getting out of this is not so much a product of David Lynch the artist but a byproduct of David Lynch the niche celebrity. It always felt like a novelty for Lynch, and a cash-in on his celebrity for anyone willing to publish it, but in the context of an alt-weekly, you didn’t really need to think about it that much.
A book collecting the strips feels about as necessary as a DVD boxset of Lynch’s L.A. weather reports, and ends up being an even odder proposition than you’d imagine. The comic strip, apparently, ran for over a decade, and had a revival online, but there are simply not that many strips here. There’s seventeen. Half the book’s pages are blank. There are two kinds of blank pages, black and white, perhaps based on the fact that there’s really just two drawings in the whole book, the dog during the day and at night. The design choices are noteworthy, if only because there’s so little else to note: The front cover and endpapers are enlargements from the strip’s appearance in a newspaper, the texture of the newsprint vaguely analogous to the industrial tape hiss sound design Alan Splet lends to Eraserhead. The back cover shows the strip in the context of a page of classified ads, a reminder of the actual scale from which its reproduced, bound to commerce and disposability.
Assuming it’s a best-of, I don’t expect anyone will quibble with what’s included. There certainly aren’t any The Angriest Dog In The World strips I recall as being better than what’s contained here, on account of not remembering the particulars of any installment too vividly. I’m unclear whether anyone remembers the strip itself particularly fondly, moreso than they do the broader context in which they found it, a world where alt-weeklies existed and could tell you places to eat, or shows to attend, or what movies to see, on nights one decided to go out rather than stay in watching TV, when the best things on would be Twin Peaks and The Simpsons. Matt Groening’s Life In Hell is a superior strip, and at least in L.A., it ran in a competing paper. It strikes me that anti-humor ages more poorly than things from the same era that actually attempted jokes.
When I say “anti-humor,” I’m using a term I first heard in conjunction with Scott Dikkers’ Jim’s Journal strip, and which I’ve since seen applied to the (Lynch-indebted) work of Tim and Eric: While there is a general set of societal expectations that can be upended to create comedy, the rise of “comedy” as a form has created its own form of genre expectations, the denial of which can in turn still create laughs. The issue that emerges is that, as the tricks of the latter become absorbed into the tropes of the former, the pauses of discomfort no longer feel uncomfortable, they just become another part of the vaguely-humorous white noise of interaction; at first between individuals on a personal level, and then between viewers and the culture they consume.
So, over the past thirty years, as Twin Peaks’ influence was felt on the world of television, most notably in the rise of “prestige TV” of the sort found in HBO dramas, it was also a part of the fabric of Adult Swim comedy of the sort produced by Tim and Eric and PFFR. There’s even an argument to be made for his influence on The Office, which is basically the standard for the 21st century sitcom. This stuff benefits Lynch, by providing a context for him to make goofy Netflix shorts, or his Flash animation series Dumbland. He’s also able to do whatever he wants because he’s a celebrity, that celebrity being buoyed as much by appearances on Louie as it is the making of an actual masterpiece in the form of Twin Peaks: The Return.
This celebrity status is also what makes me far more ambivalent towards The Angriest Dog In The World than I would be to something similarly low-effort from someone who isn’t famous. It’s cool to make a comic strip as a goof! More people should be comfortable doing that. But the existence of the strip itself doesn’t encourage casual expression, because all of the context makes it clear it’s just a rich person being indulged by those around him, in hopes it might serve to their benefit. That’s why this is a book with a note about gallery representation rather than a minicomic made on a photocopier. Because while anti-humor is conditional on the facts of its existence, the “I can’t believe this is on TV” of it all, I know all too well why this book exists, and in the absence of that bafflement, the joke just ends up being on whoever’s willing to buy a copy.