Once in awhile, if you’re like me (in which case I’m sorry), there’s nothing that does the trick like a little bit of gross-out humor. It’s old-school in the extreme, sure, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have something to say about not just personal struggles but contemporary life in general when done well, and that’s where Mike Centeno and his self-published mini, The Cutaneous Adventures Of P.L. Dermes, come into the picture.
Well, almost. This book’s uniquely elongated format is tough to get “into the picture” in a physical sense, presenting as it does one four-panel strip per one-sided page on blue paper between yellow covers, all riso-printed, but admittedly fun presentation aside, it’s the fact that its contents are pretty tough to get out of your head that makes it worth your time — provided you’re equipped with a reasonably strong constitution, of course.
These strips originally ran in the Chicago Reader, and focused as they are on disgust with oneself physically, mentally, intellectually, emotionally (with the “physically” part of that equation obviously serving as a stand-in and/or catch-all for all the rest), they follow on in the rich tradition of cartoonists flowing from the tributary originating with R. Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb — but as even a brief glance at any page can tell you, the greatest debt Centeno owes here is to fellow Chicagoan Ivan Brunetti and the first few issues of his seminal Schizo series. And while this is a marginally less harrowing experience on the whole than those were, it’s pretty well just as funny, probably no less unhinged, and certainly a pretty rigorous test of both your stamina and comfort levels.
However (and it’s admittedly a very big “however”), if you don’t like early-days Brunetti, I’m fairly confident that you won’t find this to be your cup of tea either, given that it covers a ton of the same thematic territory, and that even the art is more than just a bit similar — although I hesitate to call it downright derivative. Just be advised that the protagonist here, the titular Mr. Dermes, is a pretty clear stand-in for “his” creator, and that hang-ups about his skin, his overall body image, his depression, and his anxiety are the order of the day across the board. I get a kick out of this kind of shit, as I’ve already confessed, but if you prefer something with a bit more delicacy or nuance, you’re gonna be heading for the exits fast. Especially if popping pustules and pulsating pimples give you the heebie-jeebies.
To which I say — good riddance to you, we don’t want squares around these parts anyway. And while one could also draw some comparisons between this and Johnny Ryan’s “Angry Youth Comix,” the only person Centeno is poking fun at here — if “fun” is even the word we want to use — is himself, which takes both more guts and more skill than just making other people look like assholes. “We have met the enemy, and he is us,” as the late, great Walt Kelly once said — and this comic is that statement both writ large and internalized. It’ll test your stomach on any number of occasions, sure, but you’ll have that special kind of guilt-inducing fun the whole time.
I’m not going to bother trying to blow The Cutaneous Adventures Of P.L. Dermes up into anything other — to say nothing of anything greater — than what it is, but by now you have a good idea of precisely what it is. And if what it is runs to your particular interests and sensibilities (and it damn well should if you’re still here, I ran everybody else off), then not only could you do a whole lot worse, you could scarcely do much better.
The Cutaneous Adventures Of P.L. Dermes is available for $8.00 from Radiator Comics at https://www.radiatorcomics.com/shop/minicomics/the-cutaneous-adventures-of-p-l-dermes/
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