I’ve been singing the praises of Philadelphia’s Reptile House anthology to anyone who would listen for the last couple of years, and to date no one who’s bought it on my advice has done anything other than thank me for turning them onto it — and a big part of what made the first issues (the first five issues, specifically) so special was the first serialized “adventure” of cartoonist Nick Bunch’s barely-fictitious band Blood Horn. These strips had everything you could want in a music-themed comic, in fact they had everything you could want in any sort of comic : relatable characters, quick-witted dialogue, anti-authoritarian attitude, and an unhealthy fixation on gross-out style laughs. It was a “fuck you” comic made by somebody who wasn’t making anything like “fuck you” money for writing and drawing it, and as far as I’m concerned shit doesn’t get any more real than that.
It makes perfect sense that Reptile House (the publisher, that is, not the series — although, I dunno, they’re pretty much one and the same thing) would collect this “arc” into a single volume, but what was surprising to me upon receiving it (some four or five months back — yes, I really am that far behind on reviews) was the extent to which they pulled out all the stops, production values-wise, on Blood Horn in this “stand-alone” iteration. Not only is the paper nice and thick, the cardstock cover is even nicer and thicker, and it’s printed in a really snazzy and apropos gold ink that jumps right out at you. This royal treatment couldn’t have been cheap, but the price of the comic itself still is, so hats off to RH for giving readers absolutely terrific value for money.
Of course, any book, regardless of how impressive it is purely as a physical object, is only as good as the contents it presents, and while we’ve touched on that subject already, it never hurts to elaborate further. Simply stated, Bunch is one hell of a cartoonist, and even better, while he’s clearly taking a lot of stylistic cues from the underground tradition (Spain Rodriguez, in particular, seems to be a notable influence), he’s not in any way tethered to the ethos of a bygone era. He may amp up the outrageousness to a degree that would make the Zap gang proud, but this is still a decidedly contemporary comic that reflects the concerns — as well as the sensibilities — of today’s 20-something artists, as well as their admirable lack of respect for people and institutions that aren’t worthy of any. Cops are certainly the most natural enough target in this regard, of course, but in a broader sense, Bunch is castigating the entire rotting edifice of late-stage capitalist hypocrisy, and he’s doing it with a smile on his face. This comic isn’t going to start a revolution or anything, but your average revolutionary — even of the armchair variety — is bound to get a kick out of it just the same.
In a pinch, I think irreverence sums up the tone here best, but it’s a smart, pointed, thought-through sort of irreverence that comes from lived experience. Anyone who’s ever been part of a band — or even just had friends who were in a band — is going to immediately recognize many of these characters, nod in knowing agreement at the ways in which they think, act, and speak, and generally enjoy being in their company. The plot, centering around preparations for an upcoming “battle of the bands,” is simple enough, but the road blocks (some self-generated from within, others imposed from without) our erstwhile “heroes” have to deal with are almost preposterously convoluted, so it behooves readers to pay close attention to everything on the page here, because you don’t want to be caught napping on what is a fluid and ever-changing series of strung-together absurdities.
In addition, there are any number of fiendishly clever sight gags that you likewise don’t want to miss out on. Bunch jam-packs every panel with visual information, never takes short cuts with his illustration, and is a virtuoso of cartoonish exaggeration. The social and economic margins are always a good vantage point from which to poke fun at the uptight self-importance of the “straight” world, sure, but it takes a special talent to communicate a sense of disdain for “The Man” through art every bit as much as through dialogue, and Bunch is — no BS — a bona fide master at doing exactly that. Partly he’s done his homework, partly he’s got street-smart Philly attitude to spare, and partly he’s just, to the extent that one subscribes to the idea of such a thing, a born cartoonist.
I’m of a mind that we all need more fun in our lives — even the lucky few who have plenty of fun already. And comics don’t get any more fun than this, so seriously — what the hell are you waiting for?
Blood Horn is available for the ridiculously cheap price of $6.00 from Reptile House at https://www.reptilehousecomix.com/publications/p/blood-horn
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