by Gerald Jablonski
If ever there was a comic that embodied OCD, then this is it — and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Turning through page after page of Cryptic Wit, the feeling I was uniformly overcome by was disbelief.
I should be able to get away with just showing you a couple of scans and sending you on your way, but I feel like I should attempt to describe this thing using words for my own self-improvement.
Uhh, aw, no, screw that. Take a look at the 2-page spread below and imagine encountering this over and over 16 times.
I worked out some rough average numbers:
Number of pages: 32
Number of panels per page: 30
Number of words per panel: 35
Words per page: 1050
Number of puns per panel: 2
And it starts on the goddamn cover, through the inside covers and back cover! Jablonski hardly even left any space for his indicia.
I should explain about the puns. Every comic in the issue is a 1-page strip. They fall into 2 types. One is about anthropological farm animals and their eccentric behavior, fire starting, and occasional desire to kill, etc. The other is an alien kid talking to an alien adult. They almost always begin with the kid smoking bong pipe, and the adult complaining about the music the kid is listening to, then learning for the first time (over and over again) that the kid’s school teacher is an ant, whom he asks various questions about. The characters converse almost entirely in puns, wordplay, quips, and one-liners. Sometimes these puns are clever and imaginative, sometimes they seem to be a parody of cheesy vaudeville acts or Abbott & Costello routines, and sometimes they make no sense at all. They almost never repeat. (Sometimes the farm animal stories devolve into pun exchanges too, almost like Jablonski couldn’t help himself — though I somehow doubt any of this was “scripted.”) An average exchange:
Adult: What’s the dirt on your teacher?
Kid: That’s from when she crawls out of her ant hole.
Adult: Are you making this up?
Kid: How do you want it made?
Repeat 30 times per page for 32 pages.
And it’s all incredibly well-drawn in tiny, tiny panels. 30 times per page. He never skimps. In the alien strips, the backgrounds devolve into abstract, surrealistic shapes. Word balloon tails snake around ridiculously like a map of the Tokyo subway lines.
This is the most neurotic, pathological level of cartooning I’ve ever had the privilege to witness. It’s almost like alt comix by Henry Darger. But I’m grasping at straws here in an attempt to explain this mental institution of a comic book: comparing Jablonski to anyone else is a serious disservice to his wholly unique brand of cartooning. What a shock it was to see something so different. What a shock to realize that there is so much that still hasn’t been done with comics: the white page that you can put lines on any way you like.
Perhaps the biggest shock to me was that I felt compelled to read every word of it, even though it’s possible Jablonski never intended it to be “read” — more like “looked at,” or “experienced.”
Jablonski did two issues (!!!!) of Cryptic Wit (the second in color!) and they are almost impossible to find these days. He apparently had a collection of things come out from Fantagraphics in 1996 called Empty Skull Comics. I haven’t read that and have no idea if it’s functioning on the same level as Wit, but how could it not be worth tracking down?
I would also like to add that this comic was published thanks to a Xeric grant. The Xerics have now been shut down since it’s felt that new artists can put their work on the web these days. The experience of reading this comic — the shock again and again at each turning of the page — belongs in print. If it was on the web, I would have clicked through three pages and closed the window, saying, “Okay, I get it.” I’m grateful to have read the print version because I still don’t get it and I never will.
Required reading! (If you can find it.)
Kumar Sivasubramanian is the writer of Weird Crime Theater.