SuperF*ckers, by James Kochalka. Published by Top Shelf Productions, March 2010. Available here.
NOTE: This review contains foul language. What did you expect?
Oh, SuperF*ckers. Where do I begin? Why not, as Julie Andrews says, at the beginning. Specifically, let us start with the note on its very first page, where in one oversized panel, central character Jack Krak explains:
“For historical accuracy, these comics are reproduced as they originally appeared, with logos & prices and shit. When you study this book in college, this crap will probably be on the fucking exam! Now… who wants to get HIGH with the MOTHERFUCKER?”
Two pages later, with the masturbating mutant who speaks inaccurately rendered Elizabethan English, it had me hooked. SuperF*ckers might not actually be that subversive, and it might not have that much to say. But all of that is beside the goddamn point. What’s the goddamn point? I’m glad you asked, motherfucker. Because the point is that Superf*ckers is really fucking funny. So motherfucking funny that you might find yourself laughing your dick and/or pussy off on the fucking subway and embarrassing your lame ass.
In SuperF*ckers, a team of super heroes live in a house together, jockey for power, and generally act like a bunch of homophobic, drunken, pot-smoking douchebags. There’s backstory and conflict, and a journey or two (not to mention two characters lost in Dimension Zero), but that matters little. What matters is that Kochalka has one hell of a potty mouth. He’s like the Gene Krupa vs. Buddy Rich of swearing, deploying curses in innovative combinations and with a remarkably intuitive sense of comic timing.
This might not appeal to everyone. Either you think that a superhero- high off his ass on a super steroid called Xaxxax- screaming “Get ready for a cum explosion of hate and pain, motherglunkers!” at his enemies is funny or you don’t. If you happen to find the occasional dip into the shit-filled purile end of the pond to be bracing and enjoyable, Superf*ckers will be fifteen bucks well spent.
It’s also an interesting book to consider in light of both Kockalka’s public pronouncements on craft...
(More totally fucking awesome discussion of craft, the modern super hero and the career of James Kochalka after the jiggity-jump)
In 2005, Kochalka published The Cute Manifesto, a book of comix theory largely rendered as comix, with the exception of two short polemics titled Craft is the Enemy and Craft is Not Your Friend. His disposition towards craft can be outlined by these quotes:
“You could labor your whole life perfecting your `craft’, struggling to draw better, hoping one day to have the skills to produce a truly great comic… if this is how you are thinking, you will ever produce this great comic, this powerful work of art… What every creator should do, must do, is use the skills they have right now. A great masterpiece is within reach if only your power is strong enough… Just look within yourself and say what you have to say.”
“If you are burning up inside with the need to express yourself, if there’s something you desperately need to say, when you sit down at the drawing table you think `how am I going to say this?…’ the art will be slave to the content. Either the artist expresses the meaning, emotion and power of their vision or they do not… the notion of quality is meaningless”
Debates about craft cut across art forms (see Rebeck. Teresa), and here Kochalka firmly places himself on the side of the rough and tumble.
Looking over Kochalka’s public statements on the subject, it’s hard to ignore that he never really addresses the idea of artistic development. It may be that he is not particularly interested in it. Certainly, his remarkably prolific career bears this out. Pick up a James Kochalka comic written today and one written five years ago, and you might notice that there’s almost no progression between the two. His autobiographical daily comic American Elf has moved to color, and looser, more rounded shapes, but it’s pretty much the same thing today as it was in 1998. In this way, he resembles prolific artists in other forms- Philip Glass, for example, or Richard Foreman (or, for that matter, Neil LaBute or Chuck Palahniuk). In all of the above cases, the artists in question put out a large body of samey work very swiftly. Everything Kochalka does attains a certain level of quality (the “Kochalka Quality” stamp on all of his work attests to this), but he never transcends it. In order to, he’d have to admit that craft could, occasionally, be his friend.
Of course, we’d all be so lucky as to regularly churn out B-to-B+ work, so this might seem like a penny ante quibble. And SuperF*ckers is so much fun that I’m glad Kochalka decided to hook his pen up to his id and just write whatever the hell came to him. I’m glad he wasn’t thinking about plot structure and chucks anything about the series that’s boring him. A well crafted SuperF*ckers might hold on more re-reading potential, but it wouldn’t be a wild ride.
That wild ride is particularly refreshing now that we live in the age of the self-serious superhero. Is it possible for superheroes to have or be any fun anymore? Robert Downey Junior’s Tony Stark might be a rich playboy, but there’s a coil of hurt and oedipal tension lurking underneath. And let’s not get started on The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 2 and 3. In the face of all of this, I like having a superhero named Jack Krak around, whose catch phrase is “Jack Krak Is The Motherfucker!” and pees on people when he’s mad at them. Or a trainee superhero who uses his eyebeams to burn paint chips and huff their fumes. Or another trainee who hallucinates he’s riding a unicorn on a vomit rainbow. Even the tired pot shots at comix fans and wannabes are well done.
Now that Top Shelf's collected SuperF*ckers affords the opportunity to read it all in one, it strikes me that Kochalka is always writing children’s books. His children’s series (which are delightful) are for actual children, and his adult books are for our inner children. And it's worth mentioning that the self-portrait Kochalka concocts in American Elf is about as Peter Panish as one could get without being played by Jason Segal in an Apatow film. SuperF*ckers is for the angry, punk rock loving adolescent in you, the one sitting in your hind brain laughing his ass off at South Park right before the nerd in the front of your head intellectualizes it as cutting satire. While I do believe Kochalka's work offers diminishing returns over time, SuperF*ckers is a good introduction to his work, or a good place to pick him up again if it's been awhile.