More Of The Same, But Different : Gerald Jablonski’s “Cryptic Wit” #4

For a guy who prides himself on being “in the know” about all things small press and self-published, sometimes it’s downright frightening to discover how much can still pass by my notice. I mean, I’m not arrogant enough to assume that everyone making anything worthwhile automatically knows they should send their wares in my direction, but most days my mailbox is full enough that it certainly feels as if that might be the case.

That being said, it’s still inarguably true that a cartoonist has to be “plugged in” to a certain degree to even know who the fuck I am in the first place, and one of the best things about Gerald Jablonski’s comics is how utterly divorced they are not just from the current state of the comics “scene” but from any and all forms of convention in a general sense. The overly-dense page layouts, the way overly-dense dialogue, the astonishingly repetitious themes, the downright labyrinthine word balloon tails, the go-nowhere “plots” — there’s nothing in a Jablonski strip that makes any allowances. And I don’t just mean allowances for the “rules of the game,” so to speak, but for readers themselves. You meet this stuff entirely on its own terms, or you head for the exits. I don’t think Jablonski himself is bothered much either way.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise after all, then, that a new issue of Jablonski’s Cryptic Wit — #4 for those keeping track at home — came out at some point last year as an IndyPlanet print-on-demand job to little notice and even less fanfare, but there’s something that’s just plain wrong about that : I mean, these are the most dizzyingly uncompromising comics around. The plain fact that they’re the funniest, as well, is just icing on the cake.

Who knows? Maybe Jablonski gets all his self-promoting out of his system by means of the never-shy-about-proclaiming-his-own-greatness Farmer Ned? And while we’re on that subject, I suppose he’s as good a place as any to start analyzing what makes this particular issue different from those that have come before it. I mean, I wouldn’t say Ned has “toned down” his boastfulness by any stretch, but it is truncated — and so are a good many of these strips. Relatively speaking, of course.

Whether due to physical necessity, artistic whim, or some of both, a fair number of the “stories” in this “new” issue — which appears to collect several year’s worth of material — are tighter, while the art and lettering appear more loose. In sheer qualitative terms, this is no big deal either way — this shit’s still as great as ever — but you can probably get through this issue in four hours rather than six, and a handful of the strips herein consist of “only” 12 panels rather than the customary 25-30. They don’t read as being anything other than the length they’re designed to be — Jablonski’s comics owe precisely nothing to traditional definitions of “pacing,” anyway — but I think this marks an intriguing change to largely static and hermetically-sealed “universe.” Things, however, get weirder still as they go on —

Farmer Ned becoming a beer spokesman and then leaving the barnyard to try his hand as a big city private eye? The vaguely Reagan-looking “kid” having solo “adventures” without the vaguely Ford-looking “kid”? A silent strip about some rats attacking a kitchen and being confronted by a ghost? Strips with none of those trademark word balloon tails? The Howdy, Dee Dee, and Dee Dee’s silent friend stuff is essentially unchanged, but even there, the silent friends seems, if anything, even more surplus to requirements than usual — but then, as “strange” as this all may seem to veteran Jablonski readers, it’s not like we can really pretend these comics weren’t infinitely strange to begin with.

Hell, I’d go so far as to say that’s why we love this stuff — precisely because none of it should work, but within the confines of its own self-generated “bubble,” all of it invariably does. Comparing Jablonski to other cartoonists is pointless. Comparing him to other artists in any medium is pointless. And while the “little variations” from one strip to another are seismic shifts worthy of no end of analysis, discussion, and speculation among the Jablonski faithful, at the end of the day the only answer we have to or for any of them is “guess he felt like doing it that way.” And really — anything over, above, and beyond that is wholly unnecessary.

“It is the way it is because that’s how it is” may seem like the ultimate intellectual cop-out, I admit, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And Gerald Jablonski is still more true to himself and his vision than anybody else working in this medium. There are more accomplished comics than his. There are more intelligent comics than his. There are more influential comics than his. There aren’t more honest, more personal, more fully-realized comics than his — and there really aren’t any better ones, either.


Cryptic Wit #4 is available for $9.50 from the IndyPlanet website at

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