The best humour removes tongue from cheek just long enough to stick it out at the audience. From Mad magazine to Monty Python, cult franchises rely as much on in-jokes as they do on nonsense to craft the ultimate punch line: “I don’t get it.”
For some viewers, the temptation to reason with the absurd is too great to resist: but sometimes, to paraphrase Freud, Joni Mitchell’s ass is just Joni Mitchell’s assâ€¦
At least, that’s the kind of irreverent imagery found in Adrian Norvid’s whimsical new book of illustrations Nogoodniks, published by independent press Drawn & Quarterly.
A lover of “crummy, cheap, cheesy stuff,” Norvid finds comedic cannon fodder for his collection of nearly 90 new drawings and collages in everything from 1970s counterculture to English humour to quintessential symbols of Americana. It’s-No-Wonderbread, anyone?
Invoking childhood’s most-beloved emblems (remember Tootsie Pops? Frisbees? The Hulk?) through adulthood’s sardonic lens, Norvid crafts a reading experience that resists categorization. The perversion of familiar icons is nostalgic yet fresh, and even somewhat sweet despite its crude bent.
“It’s a lot of childhood remnants, I think, because I came over here to Canada when I was
10-years-old, and I still had a lot of Englishness in me,” Norvid said of the influence of the
English culture and wordplay on his humour.
Norvid’s play with words focuses on puns and malapropisms, but also on the similar sonorous quality of words. On one page, a square-jawed, dopey-looking skull nestles near the outer corner, the text reading “dull little skull.” On another, a man’s black silk top hat seems to fly off backward into the book, the inside decorated by flourishes and the text “Topper Upper.”
“My family are from the North of England, and they were addicted to words. You felt that sitting in the living room listening to them just yak like parrots for hours on end,” Norvid recalled, imitating his relatives’ mile-a-minute speech. “It was almost like watching Monty Python, to hang around them, and of course as a kid you’d just be like, ‘God, what is going on?’”
Norvid’s expressive and cartoon-inspired art recreates a child’s sense of impatience, wonder and confusion without recourse to a narrative or to particular reading guidelines. Picked up and flipped through on a whim in a bookshop, Nogoodniks can hook a reader on any page.
“I didn’t do the drawings in any particular order, and I don’t think there’s a theme that people can go back and discover on a second reading,” explained Norvid of the book’s loosely-associated content.
“I think of it as a collection of dumb, slightly caustic, maybe barely even funny things,” he continued, “that have some kind of relationship with one another, but that you might not figure out, and that I may not even really know.”
For fans of independent comic culture, Nogoodniks will be doubly entertaining. Sometimes reminiscent in style of the bizarre illustrations of masters like R. Crumb, Norvid’s skillful drawings still communicate the same almost grassroots look.
Intense facial expressions, slightly contorted limbs and fingers, and a certain collapsing of depth both ally the illustrations of Nogoodniks with the greater independent illustration and comic Â publishing tradition and set it apart as a work with an identity of its own making.
As Crumb said of his own medium: “When people say ‘What are underground comics?’ I think the best way you can define them is just the absolute freedom involvedâ€”we didn’t have anyone standing over us.”
Norvid echoed the sentiment of unmediated expression when he said: “There’s definitely an attitude to this, one of being silly together. I’ll insult you, and you insult meâ€”let’s just relax, okay?”
Unsurprisingly, the source for the book’s content is as ephemeral as the final product.
Norvid, who typically works with much larger pieces, discussed his bookmaking process as one that was spontaneous and exhilarating as well as sometimes discouraging and uncertain.
“A lot of these things just pop into my head very spontaneously, and I’ll jot them down in a little notebook,” he said, explaining the source for the book’s humour, “and then I’ll just use them. I say, the universe will give these things up, so don’t inflect them too much; have faith that they’ll work on some level. And it’s a bit of an idiot faith, really.”
Nogoodniks is being launched on Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at Drawn & Quarterly, 211 Bernard St. For more information, go to www.drawnandquarterly.com.