The PopCult Bookshelf
Reverent collections of gut-bustingly funny comic strips done in extremely poor taste are few and far between, but when the planets align and such a collection presents itself, one can only “ohh” and “ah” over it and treat it as the special treasure that it is. “Ray and Joe: The Story of a Man and His Dead Friend” collects several years worth of comic strips that Charles Rodrigues produced for The National Lampoon from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. They are over-the-top with envelope-pushing bad taste and are characterized by Rodrigues’ deceptively grotesque cartooning and evil plotting.
They are, in short, brilliant. Sick, maybe, but still brilliant.
An intoduction by Bob Fingerman explains that Rodrigues was the ultimate square peg in a round hole. A devout Catholic and political conservative, he became one of the most cutting-edge cartoonists at the left-leaning bastion of hippies that was The National Lampoon.
I think Fingerman may be overplaying the political influence a bit. Regardless of his leanings, Rodrigues was drop-dead funny.
Take the lead strip in this collection for instance. Ray and Joe ran from 1982 to 1984 in one-page installments in The Lampoon’s “Funny Pages” section. It tells the story of Ray, who would so miss his friend Joe when he dies that he asks Joe’s widow if he can have the body.
This is years before “Weekend at Bernie’s” and it’s way more twisted than Bernie could ever be.
Ray gets Joe embalmed, although he has to sit him on the toilet twice a day to drain any excess fluid. He buys him skates so he can take him around with him. At a bar, Joe gets picked up by a floozie who doesn’t realize he’s dead. After Ray rescues Joe, Joe gets hit by a car and the EMT detects a heartbeat.
The heartbeat turns out to belong to Joe’s tapeworm, which Ray decides to keep around, feeding him through Joe. The story continues, with Joe being kidnapped and an elaborate gag about Newark playing out before Rodrigues, apparently bored with the strip, ends it abruptly.
We get more than the story of Ray and Joe in this book. There’s Diedre Callahan, The girl so incredibly ugly that those who view her kill themselves or have the corneas of their eyes burned out. Her story is filled with pathos as she is taken in by a blind man who tries to help her but only makes her life more miserable. Her story reads like the Trials of Job, only with an inappropriate laugh track.
Most of the book is taken up by The Aesop Brothers, Rodrigues’ Siamese brothers who ran in The National Lampoon on and off for more than a decade. He came to hate them, even making a point to kill them off himself in one strip, but he kept reviving them to torture them further.
Sam DeGroot tells the tale of a Private Detective in an iron lung. There are dozens of other strips by Rodrigues that show how he’d take an idea and crash it into a wall just for laughs.
The man was a talented storyteller who perfectly communicated what his characters were doing.
His humor is just balls-out anarchy. Anything sick or twisted can and will happen. When the blind man who takes in Diedre Callahan feels her face for the first time while in the hospital–sitting on a bedpan–his stool turns to stone. Sam DeGroot gets captured by a cannibal who wants to use his iron lung as a pressure cooker to roast Sam.
“Ray and Joe” is a long-overdue collection of Charles Rodrigues’ work. This may be the archival comics collection most likely to induce stomach pain this year. It’s that funny.