BBF2011: Funny Ha-Ha-Comedy in Comics

This panel featured four very talented comics creator with various pedigrees and creators of very different types of comics all that would fall under humor in the format of sequential storytelling.
Keith Knight, a syndicated strip cartoonist he is famous for his The K Chronicles a (th)INK strips. Jennifer Hayden, creator of the strip Underwire which appeared on Act-I-Vate and the upcoming graphic novel The Story of My Tits. Kate Beaton, the creator of the obscenely popular strip and now collected edition “Hark, A Vagrant” and Michael Kupperman, writer/artist of Tales Designed to Thrizzle and the upcoming graphic novel “Mark Twain’s Autobiography: 1900-2010”. It was moderated by The Beat‘s Heidi McDonald.

The panel started out with each panelist talking about their past and why they use comedy in the majority of their work.

Jennifer told about a panel in Underwire which showed the aftermath of her accidentally hitting a deer. It displayed her thoughts on the deers defecation upon death. She received polar opposite reactions to this one panel, some found if it sad & poignant, others laughed out loud non-stop. She loves how one can use humor in comics to hide or explore tragedy easier and also allow one to say the things on the page one wouldn’t/couldn’t say in person.

Kate Beaton detailed how Hark, A Vagrant came out as started out being comics editor on her college paper and having to fill the page. She originally planned to become a professor, but the comics just spiraled. She loves how even though her strips use lots of comedy and jokes people still explore the real history afterward.

Michael Kupperman made the announcement of his and Kate’s soon to regular comedy show at Luca Lounge in Manhattan. This should be definitely something to check out if you can.

Keith talked about his history as a cartoonist and the development of the strip, but the best was his statement that “if it doesn’t make you laugh, at least it makes you think, and it doesn’t make you think, at least it makes you laugh, but when both…”

Heidi’s first official question was if they were the class clown/how did you find out you were funny? Which of course all the panelists found awkward but found good answers to.

Keith kind of dodged the questions, but dropped some pontification. On the other Jennifer stated she was the class clown and the family clown. As a kid she would stuff her dad’s tie in a drink or in his mouth. She grew up around very stuffy people and hated it, so she used humor in way of rebellion.

Kate also said she was the class clown out of necessity. She said she was a pudgy little kid, so the best defense was to be the funny kid. Being the one people looked to for funny gave her power and control unlike anything else she could ever feel and that if someone is meant for comedy they figure it out early on.

Michael just said “What they said”…

Heidi asked Kate specifically (but open to all) that because she handles obscure history if there was anyone/thing that can’t be funny. Kate stated people are always asking for Hitler, she doesn’t know why. She said some people from history are so tragic that you want to try and tackle the story, but it just doesn’t work out. She gave the example of Angelique, the famous Canadian slave accused of arson, who was hanged and burned for her crimes in the 1700’s. She felt that the story could not be approached from a humor standpoint and abandoned trying to make a comic strip version.

I personally would love to see Beaton try to tackle this one again, she could make fun of the fact that in 1700’s Canada was like 1600’s America and so on.

Heidi asked Jennifer abut how her family felt about using them in her strip. Jennifer stated she has to tread carefully and only recently found out her husband didn’t want to be in them and then was flabbergasted when he finally started reading and was “Wait, I’m barely in this anyways! Where am I?”

A story she decided to skip was the the experience of birth control and condoms discussion when her kids went off to college. Find it funny she has no problem telling us in a panel, but not in a strip.

Heidi then asked Keith about the experience of being a very controversial strip cartoonist who has had his strip pulled and banned in many markets.

Keith then went into a very intense and detailed story about a strip he did which made fun about current race relations. This particular strip made an uproar at a university and the university requested he come and talk about the strip. In reaction to the strip a small segment of black students were actually walking around campus with nooses around their necks. He needed to state that at this same university prior to this someone called in a prank terrorist threat on black students, so it wasn’t his strip that caused the problem, there already was one and the politics of that university were prone to that particular strip meant for the whole world. He also finds it funny how in black communities when a situation like this arises the media makes an effort to talk to the craziest person they can find and that’s how you get viral Youtube sensations.

The last question to get any real answers was on Influences.

Kate had stated a few, but she didn’t talk into the mike so it was hard to hear her, but I did catch her state Stephen Leacock, who I previously was not familiar with. He was a Canadian writer and scientist and Kate loves her home town Canada a lot obviously with wanting to write about Angelique and mentioning Leacock. Yup, she’s from Nova Scotia, dontyaknow?

Kupperman cited Monty Python, SCTV and the Smithsonian Book of Comics.

Hayden mentioned growing up on Archie and MAD, but really grew on Doonesbury and also Asterix and as she got older Charles Dickens. She also cited Maurice Sendak.

Knight cited Peanuts, Bill Watterson, Parliament Funkadelic and The Young Ones.

The Q & A and final questions provided nothing further, but it was a satisfying and enjoyable panel with colorful insights.