Review: Culture Vultures

By Tom Roberts and Jim Siergey
Iconografix 1993

I was in a comic shop in a small town outside of Madison, Wisconsin, digging through the back issue bin when this caught my eye. It cost me a whole 50 cents.

Culture Vultures is a black and white comic published in the comics high tide year of 1993. I’ll spare you a capsule review and just quote the propaganda from Caliber Comic’s Website:

The Culture Vultures, the Heckle and Jeckle of the 3rd Millenium, invite you to feed along with them on the carcass of Western Civilization. Let cartoon land’s foremost cultural necrophiles take you on a guided and somewhat morbid tour of the world of culture. Whether they’re swooping down on an artistic figure in decline or plundering the grave of one of the greats of literature, they’re always got something witty and biting to say. From the pages of their syndicated comics trip, the team of Jim Siergy and Tom Roberts serve up a ghoulish but socially redeemable smorgasbord of illogical combinations of high and low culture.

That is a pretty fair description of what the contents of this book are about.  Do not be scared by the word “necrophiles”.  They are not literally “loving” the dead but they do practice necrophagia – eating the dead.  The vultures are not in every strip, but there is a common irreverence to high culture, lampooning high art while at the same time performing its motions as well.  What emerges is something like a MAD magazine written by English Literature graduate students.

Is it funny?  Well here is the rub, I didn’t go to college for English Literature.  I received a degree in Anthropology, finding the job market in a bit better shape by plying my skills as a professional archaeologist than a professional reader.  That being said I was familiar with many of the subjects of these jokes:  James Joyce, Jean Genet, Akira Kurosawa, Camile freakin’ Paglia, etc.  That being said I found the strips to be funny and entertaining stuff.  I must add that I am under no illusion that most people (not comic readers, I am talking about the general population here) will find this to be a confusing mess which features two intellectual vultures talking about someone that you have never heard of.  The joke is that these conversations point to the absurdity of these intellectual postures.

The art owes a lot to the MAD magazine comparison as well.  Siergey’s art has several enjoyable background jokes in the art and is an effective illustrator.  Strong lines, angular and blocky character design that takes advantage of the black and white medium.  The pleasure of a book like this may be in the writing, but the art holds it all together in a way that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I am not sure how much was published beyond this featuring these two vultures.  Cursory google image searches have turned up a few strips, even one 9-11 influenced, but as far as comics this appears the only issue published.  Jim Siergey does have some additional work on his Cultural Jet Lag website.   If you know of more of the story of this little indie book or where I can read more stories with these two misanthropic autodidacts please add to the comments.

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I have a master's degree in anthropology and do contract archaeology (in season) in the Midwest United States. The rest of the time I have a flunky job at a major retailer that keeps me in health insurance. I am married and have a cat named Odin.

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