The Webcomic Overlook #159: Toonhole
I’ve brought up the subject of John Kricfalusi on this blog before. Needless to say, I’m not much a fan of his style. Now, I appreciate his love and respect for cartooning history, since I too have a similar love the cleverness and creativity in classic newspaper comic strips as shown in my “Know Thy History” entries. While I don’t agree with him, I love how he seems to have a disdain for Pixar, The Simpsons, and anime. It’s a refreshing, unconventional stand, and I like how he backs himself up with the passion of a thousand burning suns.
However, I don’t think he’s as revolutionary of a cartoonist as many think he is. In fact, at the risk of drawing hatemail from hardcore John K fans, I think he’s a bit overrated. Much has been said of how he brought the veiny “ugly” style of cartooning and gross-out gags into the mainstream. It’s revolutionary! Maybe. But to me, the intentionally off-putting art style was just that… off-putting. Some people will see Powder Toast Man thrust his hairy nipples in Ren’s eyes and find it the pinnacle of humor. I am not one of those people, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
In fact, I think Craig McCracken and Bruce Timm have had more influence. Powerpuff Girls made it safe for simple, retro-style cartoons that dominated Cartoon Network for over a decade. Meanwhile, Batman: The Animated Series signaled a significant improvement for action toons: the static, kitchy 80’s styles from Dic and Sunbow turned into a fluid, flexible style that emphasized action and movement. Heck, I’d go so far to say that Mike Judge did more for the “ugly” style of cartooning than John K. What did Ren & Stimpy influence? Spongebob Squarepants … and that’s about it.
(You could probably argue that John K. is a major influence for KC Green, and for that I’m thankful. However, I’d still read way more KC Green than watch one episode of Ren & Stimpy. It’s like KC Green was better at being John K. than John K. was.)
It’s probably fair to say, though, that Aaron J. Paetz, Chris Allison, Ryan Kramer, and Mike Nassar don’t feel the same way. They’re the cartoonists behind Toonhole, which oozes the Spumco style from every pore.
Now, I should warn you, the links on this site are definitely not going to be of the safe-for-work variety. I don’t feel like tagging every link with an NSFW, so I just warn you now: proceed at your own risk. Don’t click on any link lest your boss look over your shoulder to see… well, we’ll go into detail later.
The Toonhole guys seem to be inspired by John Kricfalusi in more ways than simply by the art style. They seem to have bought into John K’s entire philosophy… and then some. John K, for example, is quite outspoken about his stance against political correctness. There’s his argument that it isn’t necessarily racist when you draw caricatures of Black people. He’s been very upfront about his love for Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, a cartoon that’s been notoriously banned for its racist humor and imagery.
I have some sympathy toward this stance. It came up not too long ago when MSNBC pundit Lawrence O’Donnell slammed Batton Lash for drawing racist caricatures of President Obama on his online comic, Obama Nation. Batton Lash responded with the following: “What’s racist about it? Cartooning—specifically political cartooning– has always been about exaggeration, whether it was Nixon’s prominent jowls, Carter’s toothy smile, or Bush ll’s beady eyes. If our current president is exempt because of the color of his skin, I think that would be racist.” Despite the politics, I actually found myself siding with Mr. Lash on this. (Which doesn’t even factor in O’Donnell’s low-blow in calling out Mr. Lash’s wife and urging viewers to harass her at home.) I wouldn’t go so far as to totally exonerate Coal Black … but I think there should be some leeway with facial features with regards to caricature.
However, there is a fine line between “freedom of speech” and “going too far.” For example, there was the time when Ren & Stimpy transitioned to the Adult Party Cartoon block on Spike TV. Unbridled from those hateful censors at Nickelodeon, John K let his id run free. And thus, every joke became something about swallowing spit and vomit and you get the idea. It was gross. It pushed the envelope of good taste. It was also not that funny. Practically everyone hated it. Only six episodes were ever produced.
The guys behind Toonhole seem to have come to completely different conclusion. (Oh God. Can’t I stall this review any further? Looks like I’m going to have to talk about … sigh … Toonhole.) “Hmmm,” they seem to have said, “maybe the reason the new Ren & Stimpy failed was because it just wasn’t being edgy enough. We need to be even MORE politcally incorrect! Then we shall reach humor nirvana! Boys, to the Toonhole-mobile!” And thus, Toonhole was born… a deluded notion that there’s a golden formula where being more offensive is directly proportional to being more funny.
And, so, at least half of Toonhole is about dick jokes. I’m not even exaggerating. It’s dick joke after dick joke after dick joke. There are jokes about how huge someone’s member is. There are plenty of gags about getting a blow job. Can you believe there’s a comic about a bull typing up the cows so he can get his one-eyed trouser snake digtally stimulated by the farmer? Such cheek! Or how about the one where an Indian christens a newborn blessed blessed with a massive John Thomas by announcing: “We shall call him Trips-On-Dick.” How ribald! Surely if I were some sort of elegant Victorian lady, I would be fainting dead away by now.
I mean, who giggles uncontrollably when they hear the word “tip”? If dirty thoughts came to your mind whenever the word “tip” was brought up, you’d probably be in a lot of trouble every time you’re calculating the 15% every time you’re taking your significant other out for dinner, right? But the guys as Toonhole hear the phrase “tip of the iceberg,” and you can be pretty damn certain that they’re thinking “penis.” Then again, I may be totally missing the point here. Maybe they’re not trying to be funny. Maybe they just like drawing penises. God… how old are these guys… twelve?
But then you run into the poop jokes, likely the second most popular (or “poopular,” ah HA HA HA ha ha… ha… eh) joke on the site, and suddenly you say to yourself, “Nope. I was wrong. These guys can’t be older than eight.” Now, I realize that not too long ago I sang the praises of a poop joke presented on another webcomic site. I will fully admit to publishing the following phrase on my blog: “…who knew that the image of Luke Skywalker squatting to poop was just what I needed to make me smile today?” So what changed?
Well, in the case of the Space Avalanche strip, the joke is more about what we already know about these characters, the shocked expression on Leia’s face, the pleased expression of Luke’s face, how Han’s phrase is so similar to something he’d say in the movie trilogy that we can almost hear it in our heads. It’s not really about the poop… which kinda look like yams. With Toonhole, the poop IS the joke. It’s about getting pooped on or swallowing poop. (By the way, a word on that last one: ew.) These are seriously the laziest ways to set up a joke ever.
Penises! Poop! Why aren’t you laughing, bro?
Needless to say, Toonhole is engaged in futile attempt after futile attempt to push the shock value like a hack comedian at the Apollo. Toonhole plunges into familiar depths of loathesomeness, quipping about pedophile priests, amputees, and suicidal fat people. They’re the “Yo momma’s so fat” jokes of webcomics, only, you know, not actually humorous.
In fact, the gages are so tired they seem to be lifted straight out of The New York Cab Driver’s Joke Book — a collection of stale jokes that seem designed to elicit revulsion rather than humor and have been told a hundred times already, you hack cabbie. Hey, have you heard the one about the vampire that went down on a woman going through her period? Ya have? Eh, then how about that female sex addict counseling center where the guys are more than happy to assist? You heard that one eh? Well, there’s one about Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Invisible Man… oh, wait. Toonhole hasn’t done that one.
And then there’s the moment when comic transitions from “mild discomfort” to “full blown revulsion.” You know, despite John K.’s love for Coal Black, I don’t think he personally has penned anything that approaches racist caricature. Not so with Toonhole. You get an inkling of the cartoonists’ political stance when we get a comic about Honest Abe giving a speech about freeing the slaves one moment, and then hypocritcally being carried on a ride lifted by four slaves. This gets even worse, later, when we run into a cartoon about a Klansman getting railroaded in a court of law by a bunch of Black “gangsta” caricatures.
Blacks aren’t the only minority group featured in Toonhole. We get a cartoon of an Arab baby is shown playing in a sandbox while jealously stealing a glance at the white kid’s airplanes. Oh boy, I wonder what’s going to happen when he gets his hands on those! Shenanigans, I’ll bet! There’s also a stereotypical Mexican is shown eying a green card. Man, who needs those when they’re just gonna enter the country illegally anyways, amirite? I hope he doesn’t end up marrying that magician guy to gain citizenship! AWWWWKKKKWAAARRRDDDD!
But what’s that, you say? Maybe they don’t care much for minorities, but at least women get a fair share? Oh, you blind deluded fool. Don’t you know that women are useless unless they’re in the kitchen? There’s not one but TWO comics where a guy either smacks around his wife or feeds her to the sharks for being a mouthy dame. And… that’s it. That’s the joke. Or how about that one comic about a little girl who gets a black eye because she’s playing house? Domestic abuse is COMEDY GOLD!
Now, I’m not surprised that Toonhole exists. I’ve run into many, many repulsive webcomics over the years. Toonhole is just one of them. What does surprise me is how popular this webcomic is. Compete.com tells me that the comic attracted close to 72K readers last month. Then again, we’ve seen webcomic readers make home made “DICK WOLVES” T-shirts (which prompted an officical version). We’ve also seen some transform the “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day” thing from a statement against censorship like the founders intended into a forum for contributors to spew vile racism.
Heck, as of this writing, Toonhole has managed to make it onto Reddit’s Comics That Are Awesome list (which is how I came across it). Please be assured, dear reader, that this categorization is incorrect. Toonhole is not awesome in the slightest. In fact, it’s the polar opposite. Anti-awesome. Or just plain vile, gross, and worthless.
If anyone ever emails you a link to a Toonhole toon, do yourself a favor and follow these steps:
1.) Douse your computer in gasoline.
2.) Set your computer on fire.
3.) Tell your insurance agent that your house burned down for “Toonhole related reasons.” They will understand.
Rating: 1 star (out of 5)