The Fun Never Stops: An Anthology of Comic Art 1991-2006 (Fantagraphics)

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friedman-header.jpgEvery zit, wrinkle, and liverspot of your favorite celebrities are captured by caricaturist Drew Friedman in this collection of the famed SPY magazine cartoonist's comics work.

 

 

144 pgs. FC and B&W; $16.95

(W: Drew Friedman & others; A: Drew Friedman)

 

In the intro to the new anthology of Drew Friedman comics, fellow fetishist-of-the-pathetic Dan Clowes writes that Friedman's caricatures of the cast of "Friends" offer "a certain dead-eyed venal cheapness captured in their vaguely smug expression[s]."

 

It's a well-phrased explanation of what Friedman can do, perhaps as well as MAD Magazine's legendary Mort Drucker, and certainly with more savagery: lampoon human foibles and caricature the human face with perverse glee.

 

The cover to 
Friedman is a guilty pleasure—and not just for his gift for drawing liver spots and double chins. His comics with Andy Griffith slapping around a stunned black visitor to Mayberry, for instance, or I Love Lucy's Ricky and Fred frolicking at a NAMBLA orgy, are sickly sweet. The artist is delighted to peel back the mild veneer for a peek at the ugly truth, whether it's the racial homogeneity of one TV show, or the casual misogyny of another.

 

His grotesquerie began as labor of love, drawing Z-grade horror actors, wrestlers, cheeseball comedians, and other precious losers in exacting detail. His famous pointillist technique reached its zenith—or nadir, if you like—when he was asked to do a series of trading cards for Topps, "Toxic High." This collection of pinheads, hunchbacks, the impossibly acne-scarred (a Friedman specialty), and various cross-eyed and snaggletoothed suspects is giggle territory for preteen boys, and their discriminating parents, even.

 

When Friedman was hired by SPY Magazine in the 80's—and later, when he was asked to do the covers of the New York Observer newspaper—he aimed both barrels at the ruling class and its disposable celebrities. Some of his one-page gags are mordantly caustic, as in his version of the recording session between Nat and Natalie Cole on their Unforgettable: With Love album. Nat is a skeleton with Brylcreemed hair. "Dad," Natalie complains to her father's corpse, "you're stepping on my lines again... on the next take, could you drop it an octave?" Another commissioned piece imagines Woody Allen in google-eyed horror when he realizes the world just caught wind that he's been shtupping his stepdaughter. It can't be easy to render guilt, panic, and confusion in the same face. For Friedman, deflating celebrities is accomplished with a fine scalpel indeed, and the fools are helpless before the surgeon.

 

The Fun Never Stops! opens with an entertaining bio of the artist that includes mention of his famous father, black-humor prose stylist Bruce Jay Friedman, as well as such early influences on Drew as Forrest Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland and MAD magazines. This is actually an expanded version of a piece that ran in the excellent periodical Comic Art (#8).

 

Friedman captures This retrospective is full-to-bursting with strange flavors. Reading a hundred-plus pages of Friedman comics is like watching an episode of Hollywood Squares that devolves into a phantasmagoric orgy. Paul Lynde bounces various Vietnamese houseboys on his drug-enhanced appurtenance. Joey Heatherton awaits her next Mafioso suitor from a conveyor belt advancing a row of bloated hoods. Buddy Hackett, perpetually angry, cracks stale jokes as he closes off Peter Marshall's windpipe with a tourniquet fashioned from his sweat-soaked stage towel. And always, Tor Johnson offers unexpected profundities in his third-person, broken English. "Tor tired now. Tired of killing. Tor just want love."

 

These scenes are possible—probable, even—in Friedman's worldview, because his glasses are not rose-colored but 3D. | Byron Kerman

Check out some more of Drew Friedman's recent work at www.drewfriedmanart.com!

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