The Webcomic Overlook #98: Gunshow
At some point in the development of human culture, we — and I speak a collective “we” as citizens of the world — decided that we did not like fart jokes. The very term “fart joke” has become short hand for humor that’s crude. Unseemly. Lazy. Far too bourgeois. Any movie that employs a fart joke is immediately dismissed as the trash heap of comedy. A movie, for example, could have a script written by Garrison Keillor. But if you, heaven forbid, put a fart joke in it, lord how the critics will talk! They will stick their nose up in the air and say things such as, “Leave your surreptitious trumpetlike rump blasts for infants and rednecks.” (Notable exception: Blazing Saddles. For some reason, the fart scene there is considered high art, perhaps because it is the best fart scene.)
The paradox, though, is that fart jokes are funny. Let out a long, mighty rip — ideally punctuated by a motorboat staccato — and you can bring the whole room down with laughter and tears of joy. There’s something primal about hearing a fart and laughing in kind. It’s an instinct hard-coded the deepest recesses of our minds. We find it funny, our forefathers found it funny, and it doesn’t depend on witticisms that need copious amounts of cultural baggage or familiarity with the language. Sarcasm may be unique to Western culture, but fart jokes are universal. It’s somewhat of a comfort to imagine that our ancestors amused themselves around a campfire by ritualistically dancing around the campfire in their facepaint and decorative shields to celebrate the gods for their blessed feast of wild boar, only to have the festivities erupt into guffaws when one of the dancers felt particularly gassy. Naturally, his wife would be standing sternly to the side, rolling her eyes.
Which brings me to Gunshow, a webcomic by the irrepressible KC Green. It’s no insult, I think, to say that Gunshow is the fart joke of webcomics. I mean that metaphorically, for the most part … though it’s pretty literal at times, too. Gun Show taps into the most primordial instincts, daring us to laugh from something as ridiculously simple as a goofy-looking face. Like the crude humor you find in those early Mel Brooks films and South Park‘s Terrence & Phillip, sometimes it takes a genius to remind you that fart jokes are, in fact, funny.
So, first things first: why is this webcomic called Gunshow? Frankly, I have no idea. The comic isn’t an NRA endorsement. Nor is it about flexing. Personally, the name conjures up an image of a hot chick in bandoleers smiling in front of a table full of pistols arranged nearly with the barrels sticking out. I can tell you that no such scene happens in this comic. So why Gunshow? I got no clue other than Green seems to have an undying love for nonsensical phrases (like his previous comic Bee Power).
Gunshow is the spiritual successor to Horribleville (reviewed here), Green’s recently concluded comic. Early Gunshow strips resemble the secondary strips that a lot of webcomic artists do when they want to abandon the stifling continuity of their major strips to get back to their less demanding roots. (Chainsawsuit, reviewed here, is just one example of these secondary strips.)
I imagine Gunshow started the same way, too — KC Green’s return to his free-wheeling roots untethered by a singular theme (in the case of Horribleville, Green’s own struggles with becoming a cartoonist). except that none of KC Green’s other strips were that tied to continuity. As a result, the front end of Gunshow is incredibly spontaneous. It’s filled tossed off non sequitur cartoons that resemble one of Green’s earlier exercises: cook up a silly phrase, and draw a cartoon about it.
Spontaneity is Green’s greatest strength. A lot of times, webcomic creators overthink the joke. They put in to many word bubbles explaining the joke, or try to heighten the absurdity because they didn’t think the first joke was all that funny in the first place. And most of the time, these jokes fall flat. Brevity truly is the soul of wit.
Green, on the other hand, just trusts that what he’s making is funny. It’s simple. It’s absurd. Maybe the only punchline you need is a robotic girlfriend with rows of whirring teeth. Perhaps it’s illustrating a huge nerd in the most literal sense. Or maybe it’s just ending with a meta-commentary on how lame the joke was. But overall, the gags are short, simple, and hilarious.
Green’s humor tends to gravitate towards the dirty jokes you and and your friends used to tell in junior high. While you can argue that the jokes are childish, Green ain’t fooling around with his subtitle: “Not for children.” Over the course of Gunshow, you get jokes about dangly parts, pot smoking, vibrators, and beastality. Normally, I’m not the audience for these kinds of jokes, and most comics that cover the same things are godawful. KC, though, tells them with such breezy gusto that I find myself laughing, even if sometimes it’s only for the audacity of it all.
Why does it work for Gunshow? For one, more than half the language is contained in KC’s unique artistic style. Many times, all he ever needs to do to make you laugh is to draw someone with a goofy face. Now, Green’s art is hardly polished. However, his gritty illustrations stand in strong contrast to other gag comics, which have been rendered antiseptic through overuse of Flash and the inability draw characters with any emotion other than “blank.” And the exaggerated facial expressions are stellar, reminding me of the good old days when Looney Tunes characters would do nothing but mug for the camera during the entire show.
And it’s just not the faces. He knows how to get comic mileage out of body language, too. One of my favorite Gunshow strips features a hapless lumberjack calling to Wolverine for help. Most comics would probably end with Wolverine simply cutting the log and be done with it. (Or, to paraphrase a running gag in KC’s strips: “Wolverine is cutting lumber. That’s the joke.”) Not with Gunshow. KC spends two more panels showing the appreciative lumberjack burying his face in Logan’s soft belly.
There are plenty of other times times you assume a joke is going to go one way when KC delivers something else much more funny. It’s like he’s intentionally subverting all your expectations. Here’s another comic-related example: around the time the Watchmen movie came out, every webcomic, full of highly excitable geeks, got on board to do Watchmen-related comics. Many were fine, but they were pretty predictable. KC Green’s idea was probably the most novel of all: recast Rorschach as a monosyllabic toddler with Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan as his babysitters. The result was a string of comics that were cute, clever, and very funny. Seriously, do know know of any other webcomic creator who would’ve drawn Rorschach crying because he got shampoo in his eyes?
As Gunshow evolves beyond its spontaneous origins, it’s starting to shape into a more formalized comic. The first sign was when the comic began featuring recurring characters. There are the Hardly Good Boys, for example, a couple of crime-solving brothers whose squeaky clean intentions strongly contrast with their dangerous incompetence and their grisly results. There’s the promiscuous Skylar Popcollar, an unsympathetic spoof of Scott Pilgrim.
Green hits recurring character gold, though, when he struck with The Anime Club. (A subject, I imagine, that is near and dear to KC’s heart. Poking fun at anime fans seems to be one of his pet jokes.) The characters saw a humble beginning as one of the early throwaway gags. When we meet them, this collection of four nerds are engaging in a violent argument about the merits of Card Captor Sakura. Eventually, The Anime Club evolved into a semi-regular feature where the characters were fleshed out, artistically speaking — the stick arms, for example, were replaced by slightly meatier arms. The Anime Club is anchored by a fat, curly-haired kid named Mort. He’s an insufferable, myopic nerd who takes his obsession to ridiculous levels. Anyone who’s hung around any insufferable dork who watches only subbed anime imports, vehemently insists that FFVI is the greatest RPG ever, or is named John Kricfalusi should be familiar with the type.
Mort, who can’t see why a hentai anime entitled “Smegma Princess” could be anything less than true art, enthusiastically schedules a viewing with The Club at the local library. He meets some resistance, but since Mort is the Alpha Dork, he cannot be challenged. Things go very wrong when it turns out that the Import DVD was not acquired from the most reliable of sources. The club erupts into a violence fueled by nerd rage. Will the club ever find a new venue to watch their precious animes?
Worry not, Anime Club fans, because The Anime Club is one of the few features that promises sequels at the end of every story arc. I wouldn’t mind if it ends up taking over Gunshow. It’s the one recurring feature that could stand on its own as a separate comic.
So, despite the fact that I would like to imagine myself as a staunch sentinel of good taste and high culture free of fart jokes, I found myself quite taken and amused by the unabashedly low-brow humor of Gunshow. It’s full to the brim of KC Green’s trademark style without the undercurrent of mopiness present in some Horribleville installments. It’s unbridled chaos that never ceases to be funny. Truly, Gunshow is a webcomic that deserves to be crowned King of All Animes.
Final Grade: 5 stars (out of 5).