by Brandy Dykhuizen. Have you ever found yourself at a table in a bar, between the buddy you came out to drink with and their dark, possibly insane friend who’s visiting from out of town? You make pleasantries and superficial eye contact with him then start hootin’ and hollerin’ with the usual group, but after a few rounds you notice that the presence to your left is saying some highly subversive but really funny shit to no one in particular?
That’s kind of what reading Branson Reese is like. You don’t get the feeling that you’re completely vital to his enjoyment of his own conversation; in fact, even if you’re the only one in the room laughing at his jokes, he still might be annoyed by you. This is a hell of a feat to pull off in a book.
In the comic strip collection Hell Was Full Reese goes above and beyond absurdism straight into something akin to petulant contrarianism, in some yet-undiscovered dimension in which being petulant can actually be pretty funny (i.e. post-2016). Ripping on everything from Aesop’s fables, to Looney Tunes, to genies, he presides over a world where nothing is sacred, because everything has recently failed us and how the hell else are we supposed to cope?
His art runs the gamut of poorly-drawn to highly-skilled (it’s in there, I promise), but never exceeds the minimum of what’s necessary to make the joke work. Panels that are merely the vehicle for text-based humor generally contain collections of asymmetrical blobs that align in ways our subconscious has been trained to identify as “human” or “tortoise.” When we need a visual cue to get the joke, he’ll surely provide it, and probably also draw attention to it in a note directly to the reader that exists just below the comic. And every once in a while, seemingly for nothing more than shits and grins, there will be a well-drawn, attractively colored mixed-media piece that probably would have been just as funny without the embellishments.
Basically, he makes you straddle a fine line between never knowing what’s next and knowing exactly what to expect. Hell Was Full is long. Like, over 200 pages long. Depending on how bleak you’re feeling and how much you’d like to escape for a while and just let someone else punch the walls for you, it can be consumed piecemeal or all at once, whatever your fancy. There are no rules here, just keep a sharp eye towards the bits and bobs at the bottom of the page, because they are frequently as funny (if not more so) than the actual comic.
And if this collection isn’t enough take a gander at his Twitter page, which is a gift that keeps on giving, especially throughout April of 2017, when he went to war with a world that wasn’t ready to admit that sharks are smooth. Reese was completely prepared to battle science lest it get in the way of a good joke, and it never gets old. He’s not afraid to make his fans look like complete ding-dongs in the wake of their own pedantic corrections, regardless of how ludicrous he makes himself look. Free PR has never been so hilarious, or likely so fun for the author.
This has been a ridiculous year for many of us, and quite frankly, most of it has just plain sucked. Hell Was Full was definitely my favorite thing I read all summer, and on my Top 5 list for the year. Go get it and weep/chortle into some beef jerky and Cheerwine, or whatever else it is that people are supposed to eat when they can’t go to restaurants anymore.
Oni Press / $24.99
Words and art by Branson Reese.
9 out of 10
‘Hell Was Full’ is available now. You can purchase it here.
Check out this 5-strip preview of ‘Hell Was Full’, courtesy of Oni Press!