Friday, December 19, 2014

Reader's Day #1105- Jim Unger: Herman Classics, Vol. 3

According to Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics), comics are "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer." As inclusive as that is (too inclusive according to some), it actually excludes the one panel cartoons that are often side by side with comics in the Sunday funny pages. Family Circle, the Far Side, Heathcliff, and Herman? One image can't be juxtaposed, can't be sequential, can't be a comic. Regardless, I think they're close enough to comics to be included in the Graphic and Novel Challenge (where host Nicola has promised not be the comics police), and the semantics are moot anyway, as there are a few genuine, undeniable comics here or there. Plus, as Jim Unger was a Canadian immigrant (originally from the U.K.), I'm also including it in the Canadian Book Challenge.

I remember reading and Herman cartoons as a boy and enjoying them, but little else. It's a bit of a risk trying to revisit an old interest. Sometimes they do, but often they don't hold up so well. As for Herman, I'm just lukewarm. Overall, I wasn't particularly impressed. I was mildly amused at most. The jokes typically involve someone without a lack of common sense. A "Driving School" car is in a lake, water has pooled around the driver and the passenger up to their necks, and the student turns to his teacher saying, "Shall I back up?" A prisoner, in conversation to another, says, "Let me know if you need a good defense lawyer." Smile-inducing, but not particularly my brand of humour any more. A few did manage to incite an actual chuckle.

As for the art, I suppose I can appreciate Unger's highly recognizable style, but there's not a lot of range. All the characters have large noses, tiny beady eyes or glasses, and are obese. Likewise the personalities are dry, and scenes usually involve a straight man who stares blankly at a dumb or unintentionally insensitive remark by another character. There are no recurring characters that particularly stand out (was there an actual Herman?) and the backdrops are minimalist, typical of daily strips in which there wasn't a lot of time for details. It got so I was appreciative for the occasional object— a TV set, a set of golf clubs, a bottle of wine which proved that Unger did indeed have artistic skill. Still, I could forgive all that had I found it funnier. I could make the same comments about the art of Larson's The Far Side, but I seem to recall those being much more amusing.

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