May 2008

Josh Cook

fiction

I Am Blind and My Dog is Dead by Sam Gross

Perhaps the panel that best exemplifies Sam Gross's style is of a forlorn looking figure, drawn of drooping lines, a character constructed of frowns, looking at a sign on the wall. The sign says "Do Not Read This Sign." In nearly all the panels in I Am Blind and My Dog is Dead there is some baffling aspect of the scenario beyond the control of the character involved. Whether it's the match girl whose walk sign instructs her to "Freeze," the man sitting between two doors with one labeled "Do Not Enter" and one labeled "Do Not Exit," Sam Gross's world is one where people are at the mercy of their circumstance.

Even when the humor isn't based on the wacky indifference of circumstance, a malevolent whimsy pervades the one panel cartoons. In one a grieving woman placing flowers at a tombstone looks over at a man throwing a bucket of worms on a grave. In another, a woman praying the rosary is accidentally using a string of beads still on the neck of the parishioner in front of her.

Most of the one panel cartoons create enough of narrative to convey the setup and punchline of traditional joke telling. Furthermore, it's clear how the cartoons would be effective in the pages of the New Yorker and other magazines, as the cartoons provide a break from whatever article whose space they share without creating a distraction.

Drawing subject matter from common myths, fairy tales, and the foibles of existence, nearly all the cartoons are worth a chuckle or a snort, but reading a book of them back-to-back exposes the mechanism of humor. That malevolent whimsy loses its effectiveness, so that by the end of the collection, it's hard to tell whether the later cartoons are inherently less funny, or if they have been hamstrung by familiarity.

Sam Gross already has a number of books out and the true Gross fan would probably be best served by waiting for a collection or retrospective that presents Gross' entire career in its historical context than buying another short collection like I Am Blind and My Dog is Dead. However, this book is an excellent filler gift for any occasion certain to bring some laughter and joy to whoever receives it. This collection won't challenge for define the art of single panel comics, but it would be a welcome addition to any bathroom's or coffee table's idle time reading library.

I Am Blind and My Dog is Dead by Sam Gross
Overlook Press
ISBN: 978-1585679898
136 Pages