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Arcade of Cruelty
By Joseph Larkin
Also-Ran / ISBN: 978-0-61521-799-4
As any comics fan knows, the medium has a long and proud tradition of self-hating artists, which often spills over into an overall hatred of the entire world in general; for example, see the work of a friend of mine here in Chicago named Ivan Brunetti, for a good look at just how hilarious and uncomfortable such work can get when at its best. And thus do we come to Arcade of Cruelty, a retrospective if you will of long-suffering underground comics artist Joseph Larkin, who like many of his peers has almost no professional "career" to speak of over the last decade of churning out work, yet is sitting now on a huge pile of actual completed comics. Larkin's done something smart with that material here, essentially pretending that he has recently died and presenting his "greatest hits" much like a museum would, releasing what is in actuality a quite professionally done catalog-style book of all his old work, even more absurd than normal because of the utter amateurism concerning much of it.
And indeed, that's the first thing to understand about Larkin and his long-running "Also-Ran" comics -- that if you're the kind of person who is easily offended, you will be offended here, from a virtual cornucopia of insulting statements throughout this 150-page tome, everything from rape jokes to...well, more rape jokes, along with all the other easy targets usually found in such Kinkos-made publications. And that of course quite naturally leads to the second big problem with such greatest-hits collections; that by their very nature, the quality of the material found within veers wildly, not really the "best of the best" as such collections theoretically should be, but more like literally throwing everything and the kitchen sink all in at once. For example, the newest material found in this book, Larkin's piss-filled 2006 "homage" to 9/11, is mostly quite brilliant, and will have all my fellow misanthropes nodding their heads vigorously and saying, "Yes, of course, of course;" but this is then unfortunately coupled with things like reprints of doody-filled pages from Larkin's old grade-school yearbooks, not a few pages of such material but literally dozens and dozens, making any potential fan of his instead groan and rub their eyes in frustration.
In fact, it's frustration that even admirers of this work are mostly bound to walk away with here; and I have to admit, after finishing up this too-large collection, my first impulse was to lecture Larkin on all the great things he could be doing with his work if he would simply focus in and get serious about his outrage; see the work of Peter Bagge, for example, or PJ O'Rourke, or hell, even Mark Twain at his pissiest. Although worth your time in general, eighteen dollars turns out to be just a bit too pricey for a book that's this hit-and-miss; I would instead recommend becoming a fan of Larkin through his smaller publications, and by stopping by his website on a regular basis. Although it's a noble effort (and really does look great, by the way), I can reluctantly only give a semi-recommendation today to Arcade of Cruelty.
Out of 10: 7.4