Two Puns Enter, One Pun Leaves

Away With Words: An Irreverent Tour Through the World of Pun Competitions by Joe Berkowitz. Harper Perennial, 2017. 9780062495600.

awaywithI picked this book up with the question, “There are pun competitions?” Yes, there are, and enough that Berkowitz doesn’t have to stretch too much to find them.

He starts out at the hip, monthly Brooklyn Punderdome to try out performing in a competition. Hearing laughs at and cheers for the kind of wordplay that usually only earns him the stinkeye gets him addicted, even though he doesn’t win. This starts him on the road to the big annual competition in Austin, the O. Henry Pun Off. How do you get better at competitive punning? By taking an improv class to be less afraid of crashing and burning, among other things. He interviews scientists who study the mechanisms of jokes and puns. (They compare punning with a brain disorder.) He talks to the writers at Bob’s Burgers and Veep who incorporate puns into every television episode. Berkowitz investigates the high-pressure headline punning at the New York Post and visits the set of the pun-based game show @midnight. Along the way he interviews a host of pun champions.

As fun as following these threads was (and Berkowitz is funny even outside the punning), the best part was watching him find his people and become appreciated by a tribe that shares his unironic interest in wordplay.

You Had Me At Hydro

What’s Different in Canada by Kevin Bracken. self-published, 2016.

whatsdifferentcanadaIt’s not encyclopedic, it’s not academic, and it’s not a deep dive, but its the funniest guide to what people who grew up in the US will find different in Canada that I’ve ever read. (I found the book while looking up why Canadians call electrical power “hydro.”) It’s based on Bracken’s web site, which is based on his own experiences. He moved to Canada after the election of George W. Bush, ending up really liking it, and settled down there.  He talks about everything from Kraft Dinner to saying “sorry.” Even if you don’t plan on moving to Canada, it’ll help you seek out unique experiences on your next trip there. Get it while it’s free!

For extra credit, listen to Lisa LeBlanc’s songs Lignes d’Hydro and Kraft Dinner while you read.

Crazy Cats

Our Cats Are More Famous Than Us: A Johnny Wander Collection by Ananth Hirsh & Yuko Ota. Oni Press, 2017. 9781620103838. 416pp.

Collects Johnny Wander books 1-3, plus some bonus strips.

ourcatsLike a lot of great art, the best diary comic strips look effortless. They’re just little slices of daily life, right? But there’s a huge amount of art and skill that goes into setting the tone and telling of each. Johnny Wander tells stories of daily life in a light but not-too-sweet way: the rental house held together by spackle, the curry that came to Yuko in a dream (recipe included), and the ongoing conflict between Yuko’s love for real coffee and Ananth’s love for tooth-rattlingly sweet coffee drinks. I got to really like all of the characters: Ananth and Yuko, their roommates, their friends, Yuko’s parents, and (of course!) Ananth and Yuko’s cats. Comics fans might recognize appearances by Raina TelgemeierDave Roman, KC Green, and Rich Stevens.

This is a collection I’ll want to keep on hand. Reading Johnny Wander always makes me happy. Keep it with your emergency kit.

Fierce Bicyclists

Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton
Drawn and Quarterly, 2015
9781770462083

stepasidepopsKate Beaton, of course, is super awesome and funny. Her gag-strip humor range? Black Canary making friends with a heavy metal singer. Alexander Pushkin enters a cat show. The emotional fallout for a nasty boy called out in Janet Jackson’s Nasty Boys music video. Wuthering Heights jokes. Ida B. Wells. Hard as nails lady Victorian bicyclists. Extra bonus for book nerds: her strips riffing on Nancy Drew and Edward Gorey book covers.

King Baby

kingbabycoverKing Baby by Kate Beaton
Arthur A Levine Books, 2016
9780545637541
Kate Beaton’s sister recently had a baby, her mother’s first grandchild. This book is dedicated to him and is a charming take on the love and attention he gets.

King Baby generously accepts tribute and demands to be fed, changed, and brought his toys. This is his due, after all. His might only grows as he learns to crawl and walk. But when he is a Big Boy, who will lead his loyal subjects?

I especially liked one of King Baby’s shirts: is it a tribute to the Read To Me onesies we’ve all given as gifts? [edited to add: hey look! The King Baby onesies are now available for sale!]

kingbaby

Wow! Sweeet, Bro!

(We’re calling these posts where we try to surprise and delight each other with a book Book Wows!  Please let us know about amazing books we should look at together.)

sweet-broSweet Bro and Hella Jeff by Dave Strider. Designed with help from KC Green (gunshowcomic.com), John Keogh (lucid-tv.com), David Malki ! (wondermark.com) and Andrew Hussie (mspaintadventures.com). Topatoco, 2013. 184 pages.  9781936561032

You can still read the comics in this book online at http://www.mspaintadventures.com/sweetbroandhellajeff/

From Topatoco’s press release:

“Since the days of Gutenberg, publishers have tried to marry form with content in pleasing and impressive ways. And while there have been fancy books, and there have been bad books, never before in the history of the codex have the two been mismatched in so dramatic and pointless a fashion. Like a wrench torquing a bolt too hard and shearing off its head, so too does Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff completely and irrevocably break the notion of the printed book.”

G: There’s a fake coffee stain that’s part of the cover’s gloss laminate.

S: And it says “woopps.”  And there’s more on the back cover. A skate sticker. A piece of cheese with misplaced laminate. And there’s a raised area.

G: How long is this bookmark thing?

S: Pull it out. I had to wrap it up.

G:  It’s like 3 feet long.

S: And this is a commemorative coin.

G: On the inside front cover? Is it stuck there?

S: Yeah. I haven’t tried to take it off. I think it’s glued down. It says “Scotch tape zone.”

G: Oh my god. Ha!  Why are there pictures of Owen Wilson in this book? And what’s his name — is that Ben Stiller with a fake beard? Oh my god. (snorting)

S: The reason I had to purchase this is KC Green, one the people who helped with design of the book. The printers sent him page after page after page of “mistakes” telling him about problems with it. And he was like, no, that’s supposed to be like that. It’s full of these crazy meta book issues that upset the people who printed it. It reminds me of the first book of Barry Yourgrau’s NASTYbook series which was bound upside down on purpose, so you looked like an idiot while you were reading it (because the cover was upside down). The library rebound a couple of copies so it was right side up. They didn’t realize that it was a prank.

G: I can imagine. This is the craziest book with some of the weirdest layouts and the shittiest computer-aided drawing I’ve ever seen (though clearly it was done with purpose).

S: Bad drawing, bad reproduction.

G: Is this a coupon?

S: A fake Subway coupon.

G: For a sandwich that’s the size of bigfoot’s penis. (laughing) I don’t understand this book at all. WTF is this?

S: An animated bookmark of him falling down the stairs. There are two or three bookmarks in the book. And there’s a job application for Subway. A notes page. A picture of Jared. Page after page of nonsensical author notes.

G: What is this?

S: A fold-out page that says centaur fold. It’s a picture of a centaur.

G: (more snorting) Here’s a voucher for an overnight stay in a Subway restaurant.  And there’s a pocket in the back cover.

S: Yes, with a bookmark.

G: Is this a giant paperclip?

S: No. What does it say?

G: “Paperclop.”

S: And there’s a map, sort of. It’s the entire book.

G: $40 huh?

S: Totally worth it. This book is insane. It upsets people.

Laser Moose!

Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy by Doug Savage
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016
9781449470944

lasermooseSarah: A moose that can shoot lasers from his eyes and his rabbit friend take on aliens, a mutant aquabear, and mechasquirrel. The woods will never be the same! The silliness is just perfect for middle grade readers — it’s got a similar tone to the comics-within-comics in Captain Underpants, but with bolder color illustrations. With the humor and moose content, I would pair this with Daniel Pinkwater’s books.

Gene: I loved this book, too. At times it’s totally berserk, like when the moose accidentally shoots the legs off a deer. The resulting Frankendeer was unexpected, but no weirder than the rest of the book.