by Kevin Czap
I love work where I can just feel the energy coming off of it. There are a lot of different kinds of this mental energy, though. I’ll probably talk about the various forms from time to time here, but today I wanted to talk specifically about funny energy. I’m talking the unrestrained madcap insanity that sets some funny things apart from others.
One of my favorite rappers is a good example of this kind of crazy energy, so we’ll start by talking about Busta Rhymes. At one point, towards the beginning of his career, Busta was one of the most remarkable artists in hip hop culture. His style was relentless, his flow was unbeatable and my first encounters with him were pretty indelible. I’m pretty sure this assessment of his early work is uncontroversial – he was given his rap name by Chuck D, after all. It took him a while to reach his peak intensity, and unfortunately it wasn’t too much longer after that he mellowed out and gave up on his singular delivery all together.
What’s funny is that in Leaders of the New School, the group he first made his name with, Busta had a lot going for him, but it was group member Charlie Brown who really shone as the most distinctive of the three, at least on their best tracks. His (C. Brown’s) verse in “Case of the PTA” is really like nothing else I’ve heard in hip hop. He’s wild and silly. What’s interesting is how he ended up being pushed into the back seat and disappeared while Busta exploded into prominence.
I’m not sure of the order of things, exactly. I think it had to do with the Leaders’ appearance on A Tribe Called Quest’s song, “Scenario.” Dinco and Charlie both make a good showing, but it’s Busta Rhymes who gets to interweave with Q-Tip. Maybe it was the Quest stewardship that helped separate Busta from the rest of the group. Whatever the sequence of events, Busta made his presence felt. “Woo Hah (Got you all in Check)” is raw power.
It sums up this period pretty well. Just insane rapping, full on, like nothing else. Out of Control (OTC). As far as I’ve been able to find, he’s only really on point like this on a few tracks (and I’m not much of a hip hop scholar, so don’t just take my word for it). Particularly exciting are his contributions to the “Flava in Ya Ear” remix with Craig Mack, Biggie, The Last Boy Scout and LL Cool J, and “Rumble in the Jungle” with the Fugees and A Tribe Called Quest. Anyway, throughout Busta’s golden period, his powerful image was recorded and enhanced by the music videos directed by Hype Williams.
Hype, who brought us the fisheye lens rap videos, knew the formula for unleashing Busta’s power and capturing it on film. The distorted view brought Busta’s words (and fingers) as close to you as possible (at least for suburban white boys still in elementary school in Northern Virginia). “Woo Hah” was only the beginning… Hype took each subsequent video several steps further in terms of ambition and absurdity. Things seem to have reached a head with the video for “Gimme Some More,” where all indirect references to cartoon madcappery was made explicit. This is straight up Looney Toons. 1
Obviously, the Looney Toons cartoons are one of those things that such an entrenched part of our culture, especially for cartoonists I’d imagine, that just the mention of the name conjures up a clear image (the above music video is testament to that borrowing several familiar tropes that are recognizable immediately). However, like a lot of these sorts of property, the characters in these cartoons have overshadowed the original works — they’re now Intellectual Property and serve whatever wholesome function Warner Bros. wants them to. In spite of, or because of, this mellowing out of these cartoons, some of the wilder ones from the past still retain their power.
Some of the most extreme films were the ones directed by Bob Clampett, who had a knack for letting it all run loose. In 1938 he directed a Porky Pig cartoon called “Porky in Wackyland,” which should pretty say it all right there. Wackyland is home to the Last of the Dodos, and is pretty much the perfect cartoon realm (there’s actually some resemblance to Disney’s Wonderland. Everything is silly. Very silly. The Dali-esque landscape gives away the Surrealist influence, which at least in part must have something to do with how utterly nonsense things are shown to be.
The Dodo is kind of an early Daffy Duck who hoots and dashes around and acts ridiculous. His character design is one of my all time favorites — his construction, the way he moves, the little umbrella on his head. When it comes down to it, though, you really can’t beat a whoopin and hollerin cartoon character.
Ok, let’s talk about some comics now. Finally.
If you are smart enough to follow KC Green on Twitter (@kcgeep), you’ll get to see just how unrelenting his humor is. Like when he describes marching back and forth, clanging on a metal pot and bellowing for ched and scrambies. KC’s public/internet persona is straight out of a Bob Clampett cartoon. In the interviews I’ve read, he’s made clear the influence Looney Toons and other kinds of crazy cartoons like Ren & Stimpy have had on his work. The relationship is apparent — he’s been able to make use of that animated intensity in his comics, making him one of the funniest cartoonists working today.
Like with most things pertaining to webcomics, I was introduced to KC’s comics by my brother. There’s some kind of genetic trait with my family that if someone recommends we check something out, we take out sweet time doing it. My brother typically is a lot worse than I am about this, but still, he would be telling me, check out Horribleville, KC Green is the best, etc. And I don’t know. I had other things going on maybe. Of course, as the story turns out usually, by the time I started reading Gunshow, I was blown away.
It’s not just how unbelievably hilarious he is, either. KC Green has an amazing talent for comics, and is extremely admirable in his constant experimentation. He has a wide range, able to draw the most simple stick figures up to very detailed, colorful drawings. And they all work wonderfully. Being so flexible in his drawing ability allows Green to constantly crank out gems just about everyday, whether they’re just little gags he posts on Twitter or Tumblr, or the longer strips that make it to Gunshow. He also has a vast back catalog of work to dig through. Thankfully, the internet is not lacking for his work.
This also gives him a space to work where it doesn’t matter much if not every strip is an absolute gut-buster. Some jokes are more successful than others, but what matters more is to make the work constantly, and it’s exciting to see a creator brave enough to do that in public. Green might attribute it to an overactive imagination, but it’s clear he has a strong work ethic to make the most of this outpouring of ideas.
This is one of my favorite depictions of God.
As much as I find Green’s work to be hysterical, I don’t want to ignore his writing ability. One of his more underrated talents is how well he can put together a long form, complex story, one that jumps around a lot but still manages to find its course again. For the past couple months on Gunshow, the strips have all been leading into one another, and while it looked like one storyline was all wrapped up, making way for the next, we’ve now returned to the doctors wicked excited about their tattoo ideas (see above). It makes me wonder if this is part of the graphic novel Green has expressed interest in writing. 2 Or maybe he’s cooking up something else entirely… Either way, Gunshow is good, very good.
KC Green is a very talented, funny, charming young man.
1 Full Disclosure: it’s possible that my first real exposure to Busta Rhymes was from his verse for the Monstars theme on the Space Jam soundtrack. So there’s another direct connection to Looney Toons.
2 Mentioned here