At first glance, UK cartoonist Lizz Lunney’s Big Bonerz, a 44-page collection of her black and white Street Dawgz strips collected between two riso-printed covers by J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books, appears to be a sort of “edgy” or “confrontational” updating of the venerable “funny animal” genre, but the thing with preconceptions is — pun only slightly intended because, frankly, it’s not a very good one — well, they can be a real bitch.
And that goes double, as it turns out, when they’re right. This is, you see, a very funny comic — and it’s a crisp and incisive kind of funny, one that reflects real-world concerns and all-too-human foibles and frailties, even if it features a group of canine protagonists who are operating in “our” stead as they grapple with issues ranging from debilitating depression, class struggles, celebrity worship, and anger management to drug dependency, internet addiction, lethargy, and homelessness. So what, then, is unexpected here? I’m glad you asked —
While characterization is admittedly scant within these pages and frequently leaned upon/developed as pretext in service of “gag” set-ups, there is a narrative “through-line” of sorts that Lunney is pursuing, and it’s got a lot of heart to it. Her cardboard-box-dwelling “dawgz” are more than figures to poke fun at and/or feel sorry for, they’re actually pretty damn easy to relate to — especially if you’ve either known junkies/addicts (particularly homeless junkies/addicts) or, no judgments here, been one yourself. You want authenticity? You’re actually going to find plenty of it on offer in this modest little book.
That being said, you needn’t worry — if you’re pre-disposed to be concerned about such things — that the overall tone of the proceedings here is “too heavy.” It’s not light-hearted, by any means — these are some serious topics being tackled, after all — but Lunney succeeds in, if you’ll forgive the term, humanizing skid-row-level travails, most especially “crack bone’ addiction, by serving them up with a generous helping of gallows humor deployed at just the right moments. Indeed, her comic timing is nothing short of pitch-perfect, and while the laughs we get don’t exactly “defuse” the often-harrowing scenarios that the book revolves around, they do make them seem less alien, less unrelatable, less other. Thanks, again, to a bunch of self-consciously “hip” dogs.
As far as Lunney’s cartooning style goes, my guess is that it will generally divide people into polarized “love it” or “hate it” camps, with very few readers falling somewhere in-between — and I’m happy to say that I’m part of the “love it” crowd. I freely admit to being something of a sucker for art that conveys a maximum amount of visual information with a minimal number of lines — I think it’s a genuinely rare and under-appreciated skill — and this comic keeps it lean, mean, and decidedly unclean. Rapid-fire “squiggly” lines and precisely haphazard (trust me when I say that only sounds like a contradiction) pen-strokes give each character a unique look and feel, convey a sense of place with economy and skill, and bring out a surprising amount of expressiveness in faces and body language. This isn’t elegant “funnybooking,” by any means — nor should it be, given its central conceits and concerns — but it is undeniably smart and effective. And that, come to think of it, isn’t such a bad summation of the comic itself.
Big Bonerz may not appeal to all, but if it sounds like the sort of thing that will appeal to you, then it’ll appeal to you a lot. For my part, I’ve read it three times and can easily foresee giving it a go again both in the very near future, as well as every so often (hey, you know how it goes) in the years to come — so that makes it seven bucks well spent in my estimation. It can be ordered directly from the publisher at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/products/big-bonerz