Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

SICK, SICK, SICK…but very funny

The PopCult Bookshelf

Gag On This: The Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues
GagOnThis-FC11By Charles Rodrigues
ISBN-13: 978-1606998564

First of all, we have to look at the full title of this book: Gag On This: The Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues.  It may seem, at first, like an odd choice of words for a book filled with cartoons.

“Scrofulous” has two definitions at the Merriam-Webster website:

a :  having a diseased run-down appearance
b :  morally contaminated <scrofulous characters…so quick to smear — John Garrity>

While you might find it odd to have a word generally associated with tuberculosis of the lymph nodes being used to describe a collection of cartoons, when you look at Rodrigues’ work, it’s actually damned-near the perfect word for the job.

This book is a collection of gag cartoons by Charles Rodrigues that were originally published in The National Lampoon in the 1970s and 1980s. Given the sick sense of humor that Rodrigues displayed, and the Lampoon’s counter-culture “no sacred cows” bent, it’s no surprise that these cartoons test the boundaries of good taste.

rodrigues-phone-sexThat’s not really accurate. They don’t test the boundaries of good taste. They destroy the boundaries of good taste, set them on fire, then put out the fire with a stream of urine.

It would be an understatement to say that this is not a book for the easily-offended. Gag On This is not a book for the possibly-offended. There are cartoons in this book that would offend John Waters, Bill Maher, Jim Norton and Charles Manson.

And they are hilarious!

Fantagraphics describes this book like this:

Charles Rodrigues was one of the fiercest, most audacious, taboo-busting cartoonists who ever lived, and our second collection of his cartoons from the National Lampoon may be the most jaw-droppingly potent collection of single gag cartoons ever published.

Rodrigues’ work was an evolution beyond the “sick humor” of the 1950s and 60s. Nothing was off limits for this devoutly Catholic, quiet little man with the sick, sick mind. Targets of his humor include gangland violence, homosexuality, handicapped people, murder, sex, execution, menstruation and religion. Recurring themes are iron lungs, funny encounters with pools of blood, the foibles of physical deformities, deviant sex and toilet adventures.

The least offensive cartoon in this book

The least offensive cartoon in this book

His distinctive style may be familiar to some of you from his work in Stereo Review, Playboy and Cracked, but in The National Lampoon he was free to unleash his unique worldview on the public without filters. So much so that the publishers chose not display any of his cartoons on the cover of this book, instead opting for a disclaimer.

Gag On This is an impressive collection. It’s almost like a hardcover “gag a day” desk calendar, with over 400 cartoon reproduced, one-per-page, in a compact, six inch-by-six inch format. It includes a short bio by the book’s editor, Bob Fingerman (of Minimum Wage fame) and an introduction by fellow cartoonist and Lampoon cartoon editor, S. Gross.

This is the second Fantagraphics collection of work Rodrigues did for The National Lampoon. The first, Ray and Joe: The Story Of A Man And His Dead Friend And Other Classic Comics, focused on his comic strips, like The Aesop Brothers. In Gag On This, Rodrigues works in the single-panel gag format, and he was a master of the form. Darker than Charles Addams and more politically incorrect than Lenny Bruce, Rodrigues was a one-of-a-kind talent who could craft jokes that would make you laugh out loud, then feel bad about it all day…while still making you laugh when you think of them. It’s like he found a way to share his Catholic guilt over anything pleasurable with his audience.

Not included in this book. Maybe we'll get a third collection of his Lampoon work

Not included in this book. Maybe we’ll get a third collection of his Lampoon work

Putting together this review was a little tricky, because I had to find cartoons that weren’t too offensive to present as samples, and it was not an easy job. Finally, I had to include one that isn’t even in this collection: A color cartoon he did as a cover for the Lampoon. These are tame compared to most of the cartoons in this book.

Gag On This is the perfect gift for your most twisted family member or friend, or for that extremely devout person in your life that you’d rather not ever hear from again. It is extremely offensive, filled with slurs and insults of every kind, and it is probably the funniest thing you’ll read all year.

1 Comment

  1. Gary Groth

    As the one who came up with “scrofulous” for the sub-title of this book, and for your keen appreciation of Rodrigues’ humor, I thank you.

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