Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends the hardcover edition of Evan Dorkin’s ‘Dork’, available August 18 from Dark Horse Comics.
By Arpad Okay. Dig deep into this new collection of Evan Dorkin’s work. It’s a time capsule, two decades of indie comics, vaudeville, low gravy. More, it’s a history of comics and pop culture and ephemera. Dork is obsession. A labor of love. An outpouring of raw emotion. In the pages of Dork you’ll find anger, euphoria, regret, passion, disgust, nostalgia, ambition, vision. Dork is Evan Dorkin on a rooftop shouting to the skies, “I AM ALIVE!”
Dorkin gives you a history of his experience with comics as an introduction and you can see it in the arc of the book. His career is a part of the indie boom, small publishers taking chances on books aimed at niche audiences. Comics that weren’t (necessarily) concerned with grawlices and fisticuffs. The ethos that comics could be something else.
Dork, though, was an outlier in the scene. On one hand, its ideas, often fixated on death and stupidity, transferred from under the breath mutterings to a single page spread or a three panel gag strip, this was what the indie scene was all about. Embracing one’s dark thoughts.
On the other, the format and the characters of Dork were straight out of the funny pages, ripped from the drugstore spinner rack. Dorkin talks about his drive to create coming from a love affair with superhero comics and Saturday morning cartoons. So Dork is sunshine and pop culture, gooey sex and bloody revenge, spit in your eye, and well wishes of good luck, all “circling the drain.”
The pop culture element grew into more than visual reference and ironic puns. They became vehicles to tell longer stories. The snapshots of raw emotion became cultivated ideas. Dorkin developed characters and reused them and refined them. His humor matured from plop jokes into longer payoffs, and yet retained their essence: unblinking, unflinching satire.
Satire from a place of contempt. Satire from loving something so much you acknowledge its flaws. Satire from the harmless place of fun for fun’s sake. Everything, every bit of bodily humor, every run at a franchise, every single bad pun, is a choice made by a complex mind. It might seem like anger on the surface, but the bitter fruit that is Dork grows from the dark heart of love.
A Costco case of petit fours made for the Mad Hatter’s tea party. You go to Evan Dorkin because he will tell jokes no one else would dare to.
Dork is concept issues. Ripping several new ones for Gen X. Pages and pages and pages of panel joke strips. Dorkin’s short work for macabre anthologies like Murder Can Be Fun is showcased here, then leaks over into his longer tales about spaghetti babies and deadly balloon hunts. The “Fisher-Price Theater” adaptations of classic literature are knee slapping, side-splitting works of utter genius.
Pure joy can be found in Dork in the form of list comics. “Life’s Great Rewards,” twenty panels of objects that make you smile. “Advertising Spokescharacters of Yesteryear—Where Are They Now?” That one might be a little dark (the answer is frequently drunk or dead), yet I defy you to look on the face of Goofy Grape and not feel elation. There’s a full page Dork playlist with dancing doodles and a mixtape tracklist of the gods.
Everything is in there. It’s dense. Dorkin works with a fine pen, keeping his characters simple and clear, those classic newsprint draughtsman influences, I suppose, but then any and all “dead” space on page or panel is filled with texture, words, any and everything.
As the pages turn, the years pass, and Dorkin’s talent and patience grows. The lines smooth out and gain weight, confidence. The lettering goes from emotional to professional—Dorkin’s fonts and titles are breathtaking, and there are often eight to ten to twelve to a page! Things are just as crowded, but a balance is struck between order and chaos.
That struggle between light and dark plays out in the frank and confessional personal touches Dorkin brings into his later work. The hand that draws is revealed, crushed with a hammer. Dark thoughts and pop thoughts intermingle in Dork in a manner that is inspiring, depressing, brutally honest, and beautifully human.
Dark Horse Comics/$19.99
Written by Evan Dorkin.
Illustrated by Evan Dorkin.
Colored by Sarah Dyer.
Lettered by Evan Dorkin.
The hardcover edition of ‘Dork’ hits stores Wednesday, July 18.