Michael Aushenker is nuts.
I mean that in the best possible way, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the time to, and incur the expense of, tracking down some of his more recent stuff after he generously forwarded me a package of his older works a little while back. The “vintage” material is uniformly awesome, as well, but since I’d like you, dear reader, to be able to experience the patented Aushenker insanity for yourself, we’ll be concentrating here on books I know damn well are fairly easy to find.
Trolls follows the — uhhmmm — exploits of deadbeat air traffic controllers Edward and Wayward, two semi-human (I think?) ne’er-do-wells (hell, ne’er-do-anythings, truth be told) who’d rather pig out and sleep than work, unless the boss is off, in which case they’d rather party than work. Kinda like you and me? Maybe — if you refuse to grow up. Which both these guys are frankly too damn lazy to do. Hijinks ensue and all that, but “hijinks” are pretty much the standard order of business in all things Aushenker, so get used to it. Wiser critics than I have compared this stuff to the work of Milt Gross, which is undoubtedly true, but there’s also a decidedly old-school punk sensibility to it, so the intro by Lucky Lehrer of The Circle Jerks? That makes a lot of sense. Not much else here does, of course, but that’s the beauty of it. There’s not enough sheer batshit goofiness in today’s “alternative” comics, at least in this critic’s humble opinion, and if you’re in agreement with that sentiment, this modestly-priced mag (four bucks!) is the perfect antidote. Rubbery figures contorted into cartoonishly impossible shapes literally and metaphorically, there’s something jaw-dropping on offer on just about every page here. Buckle the fuck up, then, because even when this comic slows down, there’s still a thousand things flying at you every minute. Unrestrained, I believe, is the exact term we’re looking for.
Greenblatt The Great! #1 is the first of three books carrying the “Cartoon Flophouse” label that we’ll be looking at, “starring” a dimwit bellboy with a decidedly Harold Gray-esque appearance — but that’s about the only thing the rapid-fire stories in this comic have in common with classic newspaper strips other than their length. Greenblatt’s a larger than life figure, and that “bursting-at-the-seems” ethos carries over to the panels themselves, each literally overflowing with visual information (some essential, some decidedly less so) and high-octane fuckwittery. Remember when no one in comics was capable of doing anything smart, but things usually worked out in the end, often entirely by accident and in spite of our ostensible “hero”? Yup, those days are back, and I for one couldn’t be much happier. $6.25 for a 48-page stay at the Rondovian Hotel is solid value for money, so you’d do well to get your hands on this one, as well.
Floop! is a one-off anthology collection of extended (though not always by much) “gag” strips, most starring forever-would-be screenwriter and trust fund baby Harry Lummel, who hails from a wealthy Jewish family that’s justifiably part-embarrassed, part-mortified of their no-count son. This is the kind of ethnic humor that only someone of the ethnicity in question can get away with or should even try, and if you can’t handle low-brow, well — you’ve been warned. If you can, though, you’re in for another densely-packed, frenetic laugh-fest, most jokes being of the self-consciously lame variety, with just enough smarter-than-you’d-expect stuff mixed in to keep you both on your toes and off-balance. I kinda liked Harry as a character more than he probably deserves, and I also the dug the thicker, less-refined line (“refined” being a term always employed loosely in the case of this particular cartoonist) that Aushenker utilizes here. This one’s a bit trickier to track down, I think, but I scored a copy for eight bucks and felt like it was money well — if not wisely, since that doesn’t even enter into the equation — spent.
Those Unstoppable Rogues Party Hard! goes the full “funny animal” route with dumb hedonist protagonists Clucky and Brett (bet you can tell which is which from the cover art) living the wild bachelor lifestyle at the expense of anyone and everyone who crosses their path. Hot chicks, street hoods, trashy hookers, and — treasury agents? Yup, reminds me of my bachelor days, alright.
Or maybe not. Which is sorta the point. You’ve known guys like this, though, and you wanted to strangle them. That doesn’t mean they’re not ridiculously funny, though, especially when they’re not real. A little more of a pricey package here, with 28 pages selling at $7, but you still get a lot of bang for your buck and it’s so jam-packed with visual gags and goofy-ass expressions on folks in background and foreground alike that you’ll need to read it at least twice just to make sure you gout everything. Spoiler alert : you didn’t.
And that’s just a small sampling of this guy’s wares. They’re all “of a piece,” no question, but he’s been at it a long time and has a firm command on the exact sort of material that’s in his wheelhouse. This isn’t “comic art,” it’s fucking cartooning — and if you both understand and appreciate that distinction, no one out there right now does it better. At his finest moments, Aushenker is as funny as Rick Altergott, Johnny Ryan, or Aaron Lange, but without the extra layer of deliberately “un-PC” queasiness and sleaziness those guys trade in for its own sake and nothing more a little too frequently to still be considered legitimately “transgressive.” I give a very enthusiastic “must-buy” recommendation to all four of these comics — and, really, to anything else with Aushenker’s name on it.
For more information, or to order Aushenker’s books, do check out his website at https://www.cartoonflophousecomics.com/
For more of my inane ramblings on all things comics, movies, television, literature, and even the occasional “real-life” topic, please consider supporting me on my just-launched Patreon, where I post thrice-weekly updates on — whatever the hell I feel like, really. Your patronage not only gets you plenty of exclusive content at a cheap price, it enables me to keep on posting free stuff here, so I’d be very pleased indeed if you’d consider joining up at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse