Nothing Ever Made Sense : Cooper Whittlesey’s “Scat Hog” Volume One

I’m having a damn tough time deciding whether or not the actual contents of Chicago-based cartoonist Cooper Whittlesey’s self-published Scat Hog Volume One are as incendiary as the title would suggest. On the one hand, yeah, this comic most certainly dwells on the more repugnant biological realities of human existence, but only insofar as they’re magnified and reflected in the less-than-grander tapestry of the cultural zeitgeist writ large — in other words, all is scat and all is hog and if you’re in the market for the “fee-good” reading, this ain’t it.

What it is, however, is scathingly — dare I say scatologically — funny more of then than not, and even when it isn’t the deep thread of absurdism that runs through and indeed underpins everything on offer is still more than present, yet paradoxically less than oppressive. Whittlesey has a definite point of view, one grounded in what I’d call justifiably jaded realism, but it’s not like he’s out to even explain his way of thinking, much less win over any coverts to it. You either start out on his wavelength from jump, or you never get on it. And if you’re not on it, then the sheer aesthetic chaos that’s readily apparent at first glance here is probably going to preclude you from ever wanting to decode and decipher the book’s many mysteries.

So, that’s any and all squares erased from the equation, and as we all know that’s never much of a loss. Ironically enough, though, scabrous and intentionally muddled art notwithstanding, a good many of the one-page strips collected herein are “easy” enough to follow, their direct linear nature both contrasting and, more intriguingly, confounding their haphazard presentation. There’s no doubt that Whittlesey is “bringing it” with every panel, and the almost unforgivingly intense nature of his illustration renders any and all critiques of his technical prowess absolutely moot. This guy might be skilled enough to draw a perfect copy of Chris Ware’s most elaborate double-page spread, but who the fuck wants to see that? And who wants him to slow his brain down to the level requisite for such passionless “detail work”? I’ll take the straight feed from the id every time, no matter what it looks like.

As for what this does look like, well — that’s a more difficult thing to put a metaphorical finger on. In a pinch I’d say Casanova Frankenstein on a six-day bender of booze and really bad acid might come up with something like this, or maybe Gary Panter could approximate it if he injured both of his hands and his brain, but it’s best to look at Whittlesey’s cartooning as what it is — completely uncharted waters that are murky by both choice and necessity. I may not always “understand” what I’m looking at on these pages, but I recognize there’s not one false note in any of it. If your optic nerve can’t handle a full-scale visceral assault on its functioning you might do well to stay away, but if you consider yourself to be at all aesthetically adventurous, then you really do owe it yourself to prove your mettle by grappling with this comic.

And that, it seems to me, is the key word here : you don’t read Whittlesey’s strips per se so much as you tackle them head-on, immerse yourself in them, and hope to make it out the other side. Odds are your perception of more or less everything about what comics “should” be or not will be pulverized — shit, I’d go so far as to say completely atomized — but you’ll emerge all the stronger for it. Or you’ll run screaming for the bughouse. Either way, something will have shifted permanently, and we could all do with a bit more of that in our lives.

I like to think I’m someone who’s been around the comics block a fair number of times and seen almost everything there is to see, but nothing could have possibly prepared me for this — which means that Whittlesey’s book has managed to do what few can, or even seek to : blow my mind. And yes, I mean that literally. If you’re at a point in your comics-reading “journey” where art that leaves you reeling is in desperately and depressingly short supply, then look no further. Rules, reason, and rationality never factored into Cooper Whittlesey’s creative process, and as long as they don’t? I’m down for a ride on this conductor’s crazy train anytime. 2021’s boldest statement of intent is here — even if it’s next to impossible to determine what that statement is.

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I got my copy of Scat Hog Volume One directly from Cooper Whittlesey, but you might find procuring one yourself to be considerably more difficult. If you’re sufficiently intrigued to give it a go anyway — and you should be — you could do worse than emailing the cartoonist directly at cooperwhittlesey27@gmail.com.

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclsuive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

3 thoughts on “Nothing Ever Made Sense : Cooper Whittlesey’s “Scat Hog” Volume One

  1. Pingback: An Intellectual Carrot – This Week’s Links - Avada Classic Shop

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