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#74 [Aug. 6th, 2008|07:44 pm]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#74 YUMMY FUR – Chester Brown
(Vortex/Drawn & Quarterly)

“Hmn... can’t seem to stop.”

Yummy Fur was as much a backup for the contents of Chester Brown’s head as it was a comic book, the result of a compulsion that kept him writing whatever was on his mind no matter how deep into his subconscious or his personal life he went in search of material. During its 30-issue run he filled it with stories about subjects as diverse as toilet paper taking over the world, horrible incidents happening to a clown named Ed, his own youthful fascination with Playboy magazine and a retelling of two books of the Bible.

The early issues are home to the most unconventional stories, most of them clearly made up as he goes along and filled with the scatological humour of the kind that would make psychiatrists throw up their hands in disbelief. Brown shows a deft ability at tying together the most outré elements of these stories so that they reach something approaching conclusions, even managing to explain and bring to something resembling closure a storyline in which Ed The Happy Clown discovers that the head of his penis has been replaced with the shrunken, talking head of Ronald Reagan. (This is the point at which our imaginary psychiatrists throw up their hands.)

The Biblical stories that begin as backups in issue four contrast sharply with the more outlandish strips, in which random blasphemy is common. With a surprising degree of restraint Brown retells the books of Mark and then Matthew, drawing Jesus as two entirely different figures to emphasise the differences between their portrayals. Only in a few moments does the serious, scholarly, footnoting façade he adopts slip, such as when characters switch to modern parlance for a cheap gag. For the most part it’s an earnest and plain attempt at coming to grips with its subject.

The oddball Ed The Happy Clown stories fade away to be replaced by serious autobiographical stories in the later issues, and you can feel a sense of shame radiating from the last, hurried Ed strip in which Brown brutally ties up some loose ends and tries to kill off the strip like Arthur Conan Doyle doing away with Sherlock Holmes. The autobiographical material, however, is entirely shameless – almost unhealthily so – unflinchingly delving into Brown’s memories of his youth. The Playboy stories are narrated by a present-day version of Brown, who draws his adult self as a devilish winged tormentor, whispering temptations in his boy-self’s ear to keep him buying pornography and the story moving along. His younger self is disturbingly emotionless, able to display guilt and a little fear but never empathy, too busy in his own head to respond to those around him – his mentally ill mother, for instance.

There’s a limit to how much of Brown you can take and peering into his head for 30 issues makes you feel like you know him far too well. There’s a certain bravery in that willingness to open up his head like he’s tilting a rock to show us just how many bugs are crawling around, but you wouldn’t leave him alone with your children afterwards and you’d wash your hand after shaking his.