America’s ‘Most Visible Cartoonist’, Jim Benton

« I’m not saying I’m cool. That’s your job. » — Happy Bunny

When it comes to Jim Benton‘s work, it seems I got in on the ground floor, thanks to a friend’s shrewdly chosen gift of the man’s first cartoon collection, ‘Dealing With the Idiots in Your Life‘, twenty-nine years ago this Christmas. Yikes!

In a way, Benton’s nearly too obvious a subject for a post: his work is everywhere you turn, but such a large audience seems to have been reached at the cost of relative anonymity. In other words, people know his work, but they may not know his name. I’m sure his name does, however, enjoy some currency with a couple of generations of younger readers familiar with his Dear Dumb Diary (nearly 10 million sold!) and Franny K. Stein (over five million sold) series.

Given his intimidatingly formidable output, I’ll stick to material from his first collection, which I like best anyhow… which is not to say, echoing what all and sundry tell Sandy Bates in Stardust Memories, that I strictly prefer “the early, funny ones“. Mr. Benton is possibly even funnier — or at least more sophisticated — today than he was at the dawn of his career, but these early cartoons are less ubiquitous than this century’s crop.

At this stage, Benton’s style — both in concept and execution — still wore some heavy influences, namely that of Bernard Kliban.
It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if this cartoon had near-universal appeal, given the fearful hold of cognitive dissonance: after all, most of us think others have a tenuous grasp on reality.
Cute Citizen Kane reference.
A timeless and oddly poignant state of affairs.
Some of you will likely have occasion to muse over this very question during the Holidays.
This one’s *very* Kliban-esque.
In this one, I see a bit of his fellow Scholastic alum Tom Eaton‘s touches. All for the good.
More Kliban (surely intentional!) but with sprinklings of Nicole Hollander and perhaps Scott Adams.
Taking Will Rogers’ famous bon mot to its, er… logical conclusion.
Here’s a jolly one for the season.

In closing, a bonus one from quite recent days. While I’m less fond of the digital tablet aesthetic of his latest work, his writing has acquired some even sharper edges. Sadly, this strip will likely be relevant only to medieval citizens of the German town of Hamelin, right?

For more Benton, right from the source, note the address:


Subnormality: Walls of Text, not Concise Little Quips

I’ve been interested in comics for as long as I can remember, but didn’t really have easy access to them in my teenage years (meaning, I was far too shy to actually walk into a comic book store). So I turned to webcomics, keeping bookmarks organized by days of updates, faithfully opening 20+ tabs every time I turned on my computer to read a new instalment of the dailies. I’ve drifted away from all this over the years – partially because I’m a big girl now, but mostly because most webcomics really aren’t very good, the gems scattered in a murky swamp of badly drawn slice-of-life peppered with Star Wars jokes… not to mention the mind-numbingly boring takes on fantasy/science-fiction/elves-with-big-boobs. A few I’ve retained an affection for, a few have my respect and gratitude (and live rent-free in my head*).

*I’ve only encountered this idiom in a positive context (somebody cooing over a picture of a cute capybara, for example), but I just discovered that it’s supposed to be an insult. Apparently it can be used as either; I associate ‘rent-free’ not with loafers on welfare, but, say, our cats’ lifestyle.

One of the leftovers of that era is Subnormality, created in 2007, priding itself in being a ‘comix with too many words‘. While it can certainly be accused of being quite heavy-handed at times, not to mention self-consciously ponderous, it can also be genuinely touching, portraying society’s outcasts (and supposed bimbos, and successful businessmen…) with unflagging empathy and understanding. Its author is Winston Rowntree, who I believe lives in Toronto, Canada, and is very evasive on the subject of himself.

Subnormality not only has a lot of words, it also has sprawling expanses of panels, so that sometimes reading a comic feels like playing a board game. For that reason, as much as I would love to have a printed version of the stuff, I realize that it would be impossible to fit all that inside physical pages, lest somebody springs for an edition where each page folds out to a poster. It was quite difficult to choose which strips to feature, but below are a few examples that are on the smaller and less wordy side (for an example of the aforementioned mushrooming sequence of panels or prolixity, have a look at no. 244, Subnormality Tells the Truth, or no. 98, 7 Dichotomies in a Bar).

Rowntree also occasionally writes for CRACKED, has two published books (Finding Jesus, 2014, in which you have to locate Jesus in a crowd à la Waldo, and the graphic novel Watching, 2016) and recently-ish (2017 is recent, right?) started an animated web series, People Watching, that’s now in its second season.

No. 42, Sphynx III. An early appearance of the Sphynx, shown in company of other monsters, whereas in latter strips she is usually hanging out with (or devouring) humans.
No. 79, In Defense of Weird
No. 63, Mrs Smith Is a Nasty Piece of Work
No. 104, There Are Two Kinds of PeopleUs and them/ and after all, we’re only ordinary men
No. 97, The Further Adventures of the Sphynx. She may be a man-eater, but she’s a very personable one, and one of many recurring characters who’s considerably fleshed out (heh, heh) as the series goes on.
No. 198, Mini-Golf Hell. The green demon lady (sitting on top of Oblivion) is also a recurring character.
One of my favourites, no. 199 (titled ‘…’), in which two friends hang out and watch the world go by. Read the full thing here.

New strips do come out, though not often (which is understandable, given all the other projects Rowntree is engaged in, not to mention the sheer size of latter-day instalments) – follow Subnormality’s Facebook page, or keep abreast of recent developments on his Twitter.

~ ds

Plastic Dog in a Plastic Age*

Given that I grew up in the days when PC games were just starting to be a thing (what a pleasure it is to reminisce about Secret Agent, Crystal Caves, or Jill of the Jungle…), anything pixelated immediately gives me a warm rush and a sense of pleasant nostalgia, be it the quiet appeal of Toyoi Yuuta‘s art or modern ‘pixel art’ games that go for that retro feel (the dark glory of Blasphemous, the cozy feel of Stardew Valley!). As for comics, I suspect most are drawn on a computer these days, but few of them use pixel art per se. One look at Plastic Dog, and it was puppy love, especially given its acerbic sense of humour.

Henning Wagenbreth, born in 1962 in East Germany (which is perhaps what partially gave him a lifelong anti-totalitarian stance), is an illustrator/graphic designer who actually excels in a number of techniques. Lambiek Comiclopedia touts him as ‘German pioneer in comics created with the computer‘; I don’t know enough about the development of electronically-drawn comics specifically in that part of the world to state that with certainty, although this is as good a time as any to mention that Peter B. Gillis and Mike Saenz‘ wonderful Shatter (1985-1988) is usually credited as the first significant comic book created on computer. Topic for another day, no doubt.

Be as it may, Wagenbroth did something interesting: he designed the strip Plastic Dog in 2000 specifically for perusal on early pocket computers (such as Pocket PC or Palm OS), which had a black and white screen of 160×160 pixels. In 2004, colourized versions migrated to weekly newspaper Die Zeit, printed within its pages, but also available as downloads on their website.

The French publisher L’Association released a 26-page collection of Plastic Dog strips, translated into French from German by Eugénie Pascal. As far as I know, no official English translation exists, aside from maybe one or two random strips (probably translated by Wagenbreth himself). The following pages are scans from this French edition.

Dead Wood. Plastic Dog calls the police to report a stolen wooden cabinet, to find that it’s been removed by the Tree Liberation Army, who bury their ‘felled, deported, dismembered and abused’ friend in the tree cemetery.
The Killer Cars. Plastic Dog goes out to search for his missing child, to find the latter in pieces after being attacked by driverless cars gone rogue. In the final panel, PD says ‘tomorrow, we’ll buy you a nice new body’.
Nothing Ever Happens. ‘A grey day, pure boredom’, bemoans Plastic Dog, ‘I am always in the wrong place at the wrong time, and everything is so predictable…’
In his never-ending search for new experiences, Plastic Dog stumbles upon a device that proffers guidelines to achieve maximum happiness. Its instructions are not devoid of poetry: ‘give all your money to be eaten by zoo animals’, ‘do 15 squats on top of a chemical factory’, ‘make three loafs of bread laugh in the middle of the night’, ‘plant wind instruments in the garden’. The final piece of advice (‘withdraw into solitude and practice patience’) is what seems to defeat PD’s enthusiasm (seems like in his world, getting lost in the desert is the only way to solitude…)

The following is the last PD strip, and readers are thanked at the bottom for their many emails and downloads. There’s also something about a free TV as a reward, but I wouldn’t bank on it 😉

A family visit to the zoo! Touted as the last surviving specimens by the guide, these animals may not quite be what they seem. The flamingo complains, ’12 hours standing on the same leg!’, but Plastic Dog argues that having to constantly hang upside down is much worse.

Wagenbreth recently had an exhibition at Montréal’s UQAM university, which to my regret I completely missed… due to finding out about it far too late (i.e. now). Here is the poster for it:

~ ds

* « Every day my metal friend
Shakes my bed at 6am
Then the shiny serving clones
Run in with my telephones »

Customer Service Wolf: How May I Assist You?

« Thank you for calling customer service. If you’re calm and rational, press 1. If you’re a whiner, press 2. If you’re a hot head, press 3. » — Randy Glasbergen

Comedy oriented towards employees who work in retail is its own breed of humour. I remember my ex-boss warning me early on that ‘the public is stupid’ – and that’s certainly the impression one gets, being confronted (day in, day out) by customers unable to read signs (no matter how big and prominent one makes them), pulling on doors that are meant to be pushed, and asking questions so inane that it feels slightly surreal.

There are myriad comics poking fun at the daily frustrations of retail… most of them making observations of a rather obvious nature, though frustrated employees will still chuckle at them (it feels nice to be ‘seen’!) I have mixed feelings about all the people leaping from ‘look, I doodle in my spare time’ to ‘I am an Artist who has a Webcomic!’, but that’s a topic for another day. Occasionally one stumbles onto a gem amidst all the ugly pebbles.

There are several things going for Customer Service Wolf, drawn by Australian illustrator Anne Barnetson. Its immediate appeal is that it’s beautifully drawn, of course. I am impressed at the variety of animals, convincingly depicted. It’s also very self-aware and funny, appending the usual ‘customers are destructive/insane’ stories with an unexpected recurring punchline (hint: it involves a wolf’s sharp jaws). A bookstore is a backdrop for a very special kind of lunacy, and Barnetson has clearly has had her share of it.

The following have been scanned from the collection (2019), but you can view all of them at the Customer Service Wolf tumblr.

One of this strip’s strengths is periodically pointing out that we the employees are not so different from the customers we mock.

And I kept a really sweet one for the end:

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Sean Äaberg

« Every Goblinko product is a seed of a better world. Better because it is built to last – built for relevance – built for survival – built for buttermilk – built for speed – built for living the chaos – built for you! Everything else sucks! Go Goblinko! »

My path to discovering Sean Äaberg‘s art was rather tortuous.

On one hand, I’ve liked Goblinko t-shirt designs for a while – co-admin RG is a big fan, and given my love for pickles, so am I. Somehow I was not aware of those was creating these designs, however.

As for Äaberg art, it all began when I saw some very striking Tarot cards on some forum discussion – I have no interest in Tarot, but these were hitting all the right buttons, with their super bright green-magenta-yellow colour scheme and lush artwork. I looked up the artist, and landed on his Dungeon Degenerates on the wonderful Monster Brains blog.

As I am one of those silly people who want to own stuff on paper, I looked for a book and found Acid Vomit! The Art of Sean Äaberg on Kickstarter. When I received this (glorious, by the way) compendium, something clicked into place and suddenly I realized that Sean Äaberg = Goblinko!! (Well, to be fair, Sean’s wife Katie is part of it, too.) Nothing like one of those ‘well, that should have been obvious a long time ago…’ realizations to put one into a philosophical mood.

Another Kickstarter campaign is currently taking place, this time for a Halloween book (which this household is of course supporting, given that Halloween is our favourite holiday!) Please lend a much-needed (financial) hand to this worthwhile project!

« Crammed to the gills with real Street Rocker junk scraped from the mean streets of Porkland. » This is Pork no. 20. It was, indeed, free as the cover promises – you can admire the covers of other issues here. Yes, the tentacles are subtle, but they’re nevertheless lurking!
A cutie pie! Scanned from Acid Vomit! The Art of Sean Äaberg (Gingko Press, 2012).
Some classic plant tentacles. Scanned from Acid Vomit! The Art of Sean Äaberg (Gingko Press, 2012).

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: What Lurks Within the Grab Bag?

Since the previous instalments of Tentacle Tuesday had specific, unified themes, the time has come for another anything-goes grab bag of goodies. That being said, I am in the mood for bright colours, as the lawns and plants around these parts have acquired that drab, dusty shade of brownish green that’s characteristic of August and its dry spells…

This epic Cthulhu-vs-Godzilla scene was drawn by Chaz Folgar for a 2010 online illustration competition – the exact wording of the challenge was “Cthulhu and Godzilla with the fate of Japan in the balance“. I’m definitely betting on Cthulhu (see Tentacle Tuesday: Ho ho ho, Mr. Lovecraft if you need a refresher!), ancient and powerful and eternal being that he is. Godzilla, in the meantime? Just a prehistoric, overgrown lizard (with apologies to all Kaiju film buffs).

In a somewhat different vein, here is a postcard/cartoon/illustration by British artist Ann Edwards (visit her website!) She has a bouncy, colourful style that’s really fun… especially if there are tentacles involved.

In a similar format, and perhaps even more colourful, is this cartoon that I found in an article about My Octopus Teacher, a movie about the filmmaker Craig Foster and the octopus he makes friends with. Amazingly (and not in a good way), the article did not specifically credit this image to anybody in particular. Did Foster document his octopus shenanigans with cartoons? Is this the work of some completely unrelated artist that was included because it was on topic?

Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff (Fantagraphics, May 2013) is a collection of Bagge’s shorter stories from the 90s and 2000s. I’m not really a Bagge fan (his sense of humour is too based on making audiences cringe), but I enjoyed reading this one, though my inclination to revisit it is very low.

The flustered emerald-hued tentacled fellow, front and centre, is Shamrock Squid, whose first published appearance was featured in an earlier instalment, Tentacle Tuesday: Pleasantly Goofy.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Welcome to Bermuda Square!

Greetings, tentacle aficionados! First of all, I’d like welcome this new octopus into our household, courtesy of a gift from my mom:

Isn’t he cute?

I felt like going with something more modern this week, though given that the last TT was set in the 60s, that still leaves a healthy 40-50 years to choose from.

Ali Fitzgerald’s Bermuda Square waved its first ‘hi there!’ on May 16th, 2016 in the The Cut, one of New York Magazine‘s website-only divisions describing itself as ‘a site for women who want to view the latest fashion trends; read provocative takes on issues that matter, from politics to relationships; follow celebrity style icons; and preview new products.‘ I don’t believe Bermuda Square fits that neatly into any of these categories, though Iris the octopus is unarguably stylish, and politics and relationships are definitely involved. Does she and her siren friends ever try out some new face cream, or weighs the pros and cons of that foundation one sees ads for absolutely everywhere? Who knows – Bermuda Square strips only live behind The Cut’s pretty rigid paywall (not that I object to writers and illustrators actually being paid, but I would much rather buy a collection of strips than a subscription to an online-only lifestyle magazine – call me old-fashioned).

Fitzgerald describes the world her comics are set in as “a feminist enclave where everyone can co-exist” and a “delicate ecosystem”. It’s a fully fleshed world, with intricate plot lines tracking relationships between characters and some class warfare, since underwater denizens aren’t at all immune from pettiness or envy. « It’s segmented like New York: There is Astora, a Manhattanite underwater mer-city where Margox imagines building a life, and Orchid Island, which resembles a not entirely gentrified Brooklyn or Queens. Solanas Village is a ‘70s-style, separatist female commune on a rocky shore, while the social, watery Tidelands are like a club where everyone mingles. If a sailor stays too long in Bermuda Square, he goes to (and dies in) the Ghost Vortex… » 

The following excerpts have been lovingly coloured by co-admin RG.

First-ever strip, with a lovely abundance of tentacles!

Iris the sex-positive octopus gives tips for using Tinder.

Ali Fitzgerald, who currently lives in Germany, has also worked for The New Yorker, and in 2018 Fantagraphics published her memoir, Drawn to Berlin: Comic Workshops in Refugee Shelters and Other Stories From a New Europe.

You can also have a look at her Hungover Bear strip, created for McSweeney’s.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Patrick Dean

« Did I say daughter? I meant octopus. »

If you’re looking for gory tentacles, fountains of flesh and mounds of blood (err… unless it’s the other way around?), screaming hordes being devoured by a famished cephalopod with a mean streak… go look at our other Tentacle Tuesdays posts, for today’s entry is not for you.

HoweverPatrickDean-OctopusPoetry, those of you who like a friendly octopus and can appreciate understated wit and off-beat humour, stick around as we travel into a land created by Patrick Dean (not British Ambassador to the States). A word of warning – people randomly bursting into song and cohabiting with monsters is quite normal here.

Monsieur Dean likes monsters – nay, loves them – but he likes to contemplate them in their quieter moments: wooing a potential mate, politely asking for a BLT sandwich, watching a Julia Roberts movie or even reciting poetry.



All images in this post have been scanned from Big Deal Comics & Stories numbers 1 through 4 (published from 2000 to 2004), and lovingly coloured by my co-admin-cum-partner. I reread them recently in my ceaseless quest for tentacles, and while I remembered really enjoying them a few years back, I had forgotten how good they were. A lot of comics of a random, episodic nature are very much hit or miss, but these little gems are all gold, if you pardon my mixed metaphor. For instance, here’s PD’s summary of #3:

« More assorted one page strips. 28 pages of witches, cities, investigators, sailors, big shows, haunted houses, bees, record collections, band directors, roommates, octopuses, ham, radio towers, rainy days, treasure maps, J.D. Salinger, pork chops, and four leaf clovers. »

What kind of stone-hearted, dull-witted person would say “nope, not interested” to that? Luckily, not all Big Deal Comics are sold out – three issues are still available for purchase.

The best part of Cathy’s letter is… well, you guessed.

Those musical interludes I coyly alluded to earlier? Here.





The best saved for last? I think so!


Don’t forget to visit Patrick Dean’s website, visit his FB page, or admire more of his art here.

~ ds

The Giant Licking Machine

Carol Lay (born 1952) is an illustrator and cartoonist who has done a variety of work – some comic books published, collections of Story Minute (probably the strip she’s best known for), as well as illustrations for The New Yorker and such.

Her drawing style is easily recognizable (and not necessarily up at everyone’s street – some people can’t get past her highly stylized way of drawing mouths, for instance), but what makes her work most appealing to me is Lay’s sense of humour. I’m not even sure that “humour” is the right word for it – her stories have set-ups that are imaginative but often completely surreal, if not far-fetched; yet her characterizations of people ring absolutely true.

She excels at one-pagers, but longer stories are great, too. Here’s an example of the former, a typical Story Minute:


There are four collections of Lay’s weekly strips out there: three paperbacks, published by Kitchen Sink (Joy Ride, Strip Joint and Now, Endsville), are quite out of print, so keep an eye out for used copies in second-hand bookstores. The latest one, Illiterature, was published in 2012 by Boom!Town in hardcover (and I believe there was supposed to be a volume 2… still waiting for that one.)

The Kitchen Sink collections have beautiful painted covers, another reason for seeking them out. They also contain some longer (say, around 20 or 30 pages) stories, for instance one of my favourites, Joy Ride (that gave its name to the whole collection), set in a world where minds can be transferred between bodies, being fat is outlawed, and “drivers” are people whose job involves forcing fat people to get into shape by temporarily taking over their personality.


And this is the back:


You can read Lay’s webcomic (some of it includes coloured Story Minute strips – originally, they were black-and-white – and most of it is longer, new stories) at


~ ds