Any embarrassment I feel at being so tardy with my thoughts on Evan Dorkin’s Dork #11 are tempered somewhat by Dork‘s erratic publishing schedule; I could wait another year (or two) before completing this review and I’d still probably beat Dork #12 to publication. One half-suspects that Dorkin and Warren Ellis are engaged in some sort of cock-wagging endurance contest with their respective Dork and Planetary titles to see who can maintain a loyal following through the longer publishing dry spell.
Ah, but having waited a year I’m clearly still procrastinating, and not without justification; Dork #11 is so densely packed with gags that it’s nearly impenetrable . . . for a reviewer. As a reader, it’s among the most inviting and rewarding comics I read all year, though the denseness of its panel layouts does make me worry a bit for Dorkin’s mind and wrist.
Dork is a long-running and celebrated anthology featuring such irreverent and irredeemably profane comics icons as the Eltingville Club (a group of desperately nerdy fanboys debating the nuanced complexity of, say, The Star Wars Christmas Special) and Milk and Cheese (an anthropomorphic cheese wedge and milk carton who wreak violent havoc on . . . well . . . everything). Your typical issue (to the extent to which there is such a thing) alternates between cramped, tiny gag-a-panel arrangements best read with a magnifying glass and more traditional layouts boasting a thankfully saner number of panels.
In Dork #11, Dorkin treats his loyal readers with an all-gag issue, meaning a given page might include no less than twenty-eight panels. It’s like a collection of Sergio Aragonés “Marginals” from Mad, except that Dork #11 is not a collection of gags from several years and publications but rather a single, crazed issue. I want to thank Dorkin for giving us so much comic value for our three bucks, but I also feel the way I do after watching one of Mick Foley’s “special” matches; the anxious 50s sitcom mother in me wants to admonish Dorkin: “Young man, don’t you ever let me catch you doing something like that again!”
Tellingly, the only page taken up by a lone illustration is the last one, on which a clearly psychotic Dorkin stands surrounded by pens and ink, broken pencils and a tube of “Arthritis Pain Relief” cream, his T-shirt emblazoned with a vow one suspects Dorkin will have no trouble keeping: “Never Again.”
Between its “Never Again” finale and its front cover (a self-deprecating wraparound stuffed with tired old gags like the pie to the face and the whoopee cushion), Dork #11 offers such an exhaustive assortment of alternately inspired and absurd jokes that it’s tempting to simply list the best hundred or so in order to persuade you to buy it for yourself. Alas, we both know that a description of a comic strip is about as satisfying as a painting of a pizza.
Dork #11 follows the second Dork collection, Circling the Drain, itself an explosive and compelling series of confessional strips wherein Dorkin laid bare all his fears and shortcomings and mistakes, his phobias and obsessions and neuroses, and most of all his self-loathing, mostly for ostensibly “hijacking” his humor comic with what amounted to a nervous breakdown in print form; it was of course a revelatory high-water mark, and many fans consider it Dorkin’s best work, and certainly his most touching. That it appeared in the context of a determinedly abrasive, accosting comic book called Dork was somehow inexplicably perfect, and that Dorkin chooses to follow that unlikely triumph with something as frivolous (if hilarious) as the contents of Dork #11 shows that the depraved little anthology will forever be whatever Dorkin wants it to be.
The angst here is mostly directed outward again, to great comic effect, the self-loathing reduced to mere self-deprecation; in a “Tips for Aspiring Cartoonists” strip, Dorkin’s rejection slips offer such encouraging explanations as, “We already have a ton of shitty artists—Marvel” and “Might we suggest a career in food management?” and, my favorite, “No, no, a thousand times, no.” Dorkin then boasts that he is “One of the best of the worst.”
It’s never been clear to me exactly how large Dorkin’s audience is, but I’ve long felt that while his fans are loyal, many of the readers who would appreciate his work the most have yet to discover it. One-note works like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac claim a disproportionate amount of the young hipster audience that should rightfully be dominated by Dork. Slave Labor Graphics should be shipping copies of Circling the Drain and its predecessor Who’s Laughing Now to not only mainstream bookstores, but also stores like Hot Topic; any young, clever smartass who likes The Onion or McSweeney’s or South Park will love Dork.
I try to do my part, risking my teaching credential by sharing Dork with my more cynical and precocious students, and of course reviewing each new issue of Dork in an alert and timely fashion, but as has already been noted, reading a description of a comic is a poor substitute for reading it yourself.