Let me start by saying that THE HIC & HOC ILLUSTRATED JOURNAL OF HUMOR isn’t the most illustrious-looking small press anthology to recently come out. In terms of its sizing and format, this freshman compilation endeavor from Hic & Hoc is quite modest and free from glitzy eye-catching add ons like silk-screened dust jackets or even a super-cool glossy binding. For what it lacks in initial aesthetic enticement, this collection of humor shorts is abounding with charm and is filled with a no-holds-barred potpourri of material that is unpredictably laughable, uncomfortable, bizarrely horrific, and at times touching.
Edited by the careful hands of the inarguably convivial Nathan Bulmer and Lauren Barnett, they both do a nice job at curating a collection that features their own unique sense of humor, as the content is imbued with a surface of cutesy illustration only to be played against a stream of crafted provocative twists. With 28 different contributors along with a rather creepy yet striking cover by Joseph Lambert, most of the comics are very short—many being only a single page. With no narrative gaps and even an absence of title for some, THE ILLUSTRATED JOURNAL OF HUMOR provides for an interesting staccato of a reading experience, really hammering away at both the creators’ and readers’ ability to differentiate and distinguish every individual piece. At times it can read a bit disjointed, but the fragmented structure also harkens back to comic’s history in the newspaper funnies section, with many of the works’ comedic elements excelling through short-form.
There’s a little bit of everything in this humor anthology. While bodily organs and sexual exploits represent a majority of the contributions (no doubt to be expected when a warning “Not for kids!” is emblazoned on the cover), anthropomorphism and alien creatures, the anxiety of growing up and relationships, materialism, and even an examination of multiple historic generals are depicted, all the while ranging from innocuous amusement to mildly offensive gags. Printed in black and white, all the creators’ styles are visually quite complementary yet you still get to see each cartoonists individuality. Lambert’s cover, the only part to be printed in color, is hands-down the most dazzling spread, a macabre of two facial close-ups, with one girl gleaming at the reader with comic strip-esque braces ornamenting her teeth.
NVS’s comic is the kick off piece for this collection and is easily one of the most charismatic and visually refined segments. No novice to the world of anthologies, his experience beams through as this piece is narratively the most well constructed, capturing the psycho traumatic distress of a nightmare that hinges uncomfortably close reality. His comic reads like it could be ripped from the pages his ongoing work BLAMMO (which is fantastically reviewed recently HERE), yet all the while maintains its own autonomy and falls into this collection seamlessly. Placing this piece first helped capture and set the tone for the rest of the contributions, depicting a hilarity that is funny and terrifying all at once.
Probably at the top of the NSFW pieces comes from Sam Spina, whose play-by-play chronicle of a kinky sex romp stuck in my mind even long after I finished reading the entirety of the anthology. It’s clear that Spina didn’t take himself too seriously in rendering the ridiculous sexual exploits, as the pair barely have distinguishable anatomies, making the hilarity ensue through their back-and-forth banter. With come-ons like “Bring that whirlybird over here” and “My poopoo needs some peepee,” this piece is entirely silly, yet at the same sheds some light on the regrettable and in the moment things we say when caught in times of lust.
There are a good number of autobiographical works at play, one of which is Jane Mai’s “Sex Time.” As a cartoonist whose work frequently reads like flashes of an intimate diary, this time around Jane envisages a rare, lighthearted episode of sexy-time dress up, gifting her partner a risque and shameful handcrafted garment to adorn his private parts. The following embarrassment met with Jane’s sheer joy is an effecting juncture of tenderness and beguilement, and also marks a fitting departure from the mood in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH BOYS, sticking to the short-and-sweet comedic pacing as seen on her webcomic vignettes.
Rather than relying on the act of discovery (be it new creators, techniques, or styles) that lays at the core of most comic anthologies, the ILLUSTRATED JOURNAL OF HUMOR focuses more so on reigniting the familiar. I often had the sensation of knowing almost immediately the hand behind each work just on style alone, and this set the stage for a play cue of humor. There is a kind of ease in cartoonist familiarity at work, and many of the vignettes read as if a friend is recounting a joke or a hilarious anecdote. It’s hard not to already have a smirk on your face when you turn the page to see Julia Wertz’s autobiographical self or Sam Henderson’s affable characters. This is not to say there are no surprises, rather the anthology succeeds at creating a continuum that highlights both the familiar and the absurd, making it a work that seasoned comic readers as well as newcomers can enjoy.
Head on over to the Hic and Hoc store to get a copy of your own for only $10, and keep an eye out for more great releases from this indie publisher!