Marc Hempel’s Male Id Funhouse

 « Marc Hempel (born May 25, 1957) is an American cartoonist/comics artist best known for his work on The Sandman with Neil Gaiman. » And with this sentence starts my diatribe.

In an ideal universe, any blurb about Marc Hempel would open with a mention of his solo work (Gregory, Tug & Buster), or, if one must discuss joint efforts off the bat, his excellent work with Mark Wheatley on Breathtaker and Mars would also rate highly on the list of comics worth alluding to. This universe, as you have surely noticed, is sorely lacking in perfection. However, this is a microcosm of ne plus ultra our blog, so please bear with me while I gush about Hempel’s lovely ink lines and his talent for humorous repartee while throwing a snide sidelong look at Gaiman, a sort of a persona non grata here at WOT. Oh, don’t boil over, kind reader – the latter has an army of fanboys to rush to his defense.

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away (I kid, though 1995 simultaneously feels like ten years and half a century ago) there was a hilarious yet poignant series called TUG & buster, spanning seven issues published between 1995 and 1998.

TUG: a brain-dead hunk (Hempel himself used ‘mildly retarded’ as a descriptor), lethally attractive to full-bosomed babes, despite dubious personal hygiene and a highly-flammable pompadour.

buster: a shrimp of a kid with an abysmal case of hero worship and no chest hair whatsoever to speak of.

The original art for Tug & Buster no. 1 (1995) borrowed from Hempel’s Tumblr. Leaving the watermark on, as removing it seems distinctly impolite!

The capitalisation was presumably meant to emphasise Tug’s larger-than-life stature, while Buster’s lower case seems to poke fun at the kid’s weeness, both physical and emotional. Overcompensating for Tug’s laconic nature (he does not utter a single word), Buster prattles on like a broken record about manliness and nookie, simultaneously functioning as a sort of inner monologue narrator for Tug. That the latter most likely doesn’t have an inner monologue is irrelevant.

I dare you to read ‘my mizzen mast is hoisted’ without giving at least one snort:

If one were to disengage Buster from his general obsession with Tug – a truly painful process which would require more than one scalpel – and peek under the crackling veneer of his machismo, one would discover that he’s actually not nearly as dopey as he seems. He just has a very precise (and very wrong) idea of what constitutes a man.

Not untypically, my favourite characters are not the protagonists, but two weirdos who complete the main cast: the hilariously, uncomfortably inappropriate Genital Ben and lost soul, over-analytical Stinkfinger (real name John).

Every time someone says ‘just a suggestion!’ I can’t help but think of this scene. I love the florid, delicate handwriting Hempel uses for Ben’s… stream of off-colour commentary.
A longer sequence of Stinkfinger stagnating in his apartment ends on a positive note, with him venturing outside after a claustrophobic hallucinatory episode.

If I’ve managed to sufficiently intrigue you, I recommend purchasing the lovingly printed, hard-cover collection, The 4-Fisted Misadventures of Tug & Buster (1998, Graphitti Designs; Image Comics for the softcover edition). However, that has been out of print for a while, so an interested party on a tight budget might consider acquiring single issues of T&G which are, for the most part, two bucks a pop at mycomicshop.

Some never-seen-before Tug & Buster vignettes leaked over to humour anthology Naked Brain, advertised as ‘subversive satire!’ and ‘sublime silliness!’ (I hesitate to slap the label of ‘sublime’ on anything, but otherwise, it is as advertised). Hempel stuffed these three issues (ushered into the world in 2002) full of odds and ends, both inedited or previously published on Sunny Fundays. I think we’ve covered enough T&B ground for now, so here’s a peek at a different type of material:

Page from Naked Brain no. 2 (2002).
Page from Naked Brain no. 2 (2002).
Naked Brain no. 3 (2002). Hempel is very good with colour.
Page from Naked Brain no. 3 (2002).
Page from Naked Brain no. 3 (2002). This particular episode reminds me of Shel Silverstein‘s very brief play ‘Bus Stop’, which you can read here, starting from page 12.
Page from Naked Brain no. 3 (2002). Not relevant in the slightest to today’s America.

! ds

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