Googly eyes

The cartoonish owl in Nicole Eisenman’s new sculpture, ‘Love and Generosity’, eyes pointing slightly in different directions, is one of a string of recent characters with the same feature: Heihei, the stowaway chicken in the Disney film, Moana; the pigeon in Spies in Disguise who eats anything and everything; and most recently, the family’s pug… Continue reading Googly eyes

Paul Beatty: Unmitigated Blackness

Paul Beatty is a hugely significant comic writer: one of only a few contemporary novelists whose work is consistently satirical. His most recent novel, The Sellout, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2016, shares DNA with other irreverent, iconoclastic masterpieces like Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse Five. The novel traces the tribulations of his protagonist,… Continue reading Paul Beatty: Unmitigated Blackness

Comic naivety in George Saunders’s ‘Ghoul’

The pleasure we find in naivety is complex: it’s partly superiority at a lack of social sophistication or adroitness about social conventions, and partly relief at the failure to maintain those norms – a chance to vicariously share in a momentary respite from the ceaseless self-consciousness and responsiveness required of us as social creatures. There’s… Continue reading Comic naivety in George Saunders’s ‘Ghoul’

Fake Accounts: irony and the aesthetics of alienation

A brilliantly funny novel, in its mordant fashion, Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts is also very engaged with the implications of humour in contemporary online culture. The specific conditions of the internet – the size of the networks involved, and anonymity of those networks - have meant that the potential scale and real-world impact of inside… Continue reading Fake Accounts: irony and the aesthetics of alienation

Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi: a new Gulliver

Attuned now to literature which is markedly comic, I wasn’t drawn by the accounts I’d read of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, which emphasised its philosophical intent, and suggested a risk of ponderousness. I was wrong, however, because while the novel is certainly philosophical, it is also very funny.  And if philosophy seems incompatible with humour, then beauty… Continue reading Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi: a new Gulliver

Philip Guston and the violation of virtuosity

Most, if not all, comic art works against an audience’s expectations of overt virtuosity. It’s often the incongruity of those expectations set against a deliberately slapdash rendering that makes us laugh - think of David Shrigley’s lumpen thumb placed on the stately decorum of the Trafalgar Square plinth, or the cartoonish modelling of Kara Walker’s Fons… Continue reading Philip Guston and the violation of virtuosity

Flake: celebrating small pleasures

Matthew Dooley’s Flake, a graphic novel about the ice cream van business in the north west of England, recently won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction, the first graphic novel to do so in the history of the prize. It’s an affectionate and very funny portrait of Howard, an ice cream man who rather half-heartedly… Continue reading Flake: celebrating small pleasures

Stand-up: seduction and susceptibility

In the recent flowering of online theatre, it is clearly the monologues and the Zoom formats that best suit the restrictions of the streamed experience. These front facing pieces resemble the direct address of stand-up, and prompt speculation about the similarities and differences between the two art forms. Often in such comparisons, stand-up is characterised… Continue reading Stand-up: seduction and susceptibility

The Darkness of John Robins

Emotional honesty has long been John Robins’ stock-in-trade, but the Netflix special, The Darkness of Robins, a recording of a show about the end of a relationship, which won him the joint Edinburgh comedy award in 2017, takes self-exposure to a new level. It seems to answer a challenge: if emotional honesty is central to… Continue reading The Darkness of John Robins

Coronavirus memes: visual banter

There’s much that is positive in the abundance of coronavirus comic memes: in their assertions of shared experience and collectivity they clearly do provide a degree of relief. But as units of communication to be exchanged and circulated, they are often only placeholders for real emotion or feeling. Given that the experiences of strain, anger,… Continue reading Coronavirus memes: visual banter