There are four main punks in this group of friends, in order of respectability: Skull, Abe Lincoln, Fist, and Dog. Skull breathes fire, while Dog is pathetic and not very well-liked. Fist communicates through printed signs, and Abe Lincoln is a bit cockier than the Abe we’re used to. One character describes the four as being college kids, and their humor does tend towards the immature side.
The book starts off with some crude humor, which is to be expected from a volume entitled Nutpuncher. Dog tells his friends he met a girl. Dog gets punched in the nuts by Skull, and though he is protected by his Wunderpants, he gets thrown into the ceiling where he remains stuck for quite some time as he fights off the gnomes he disturbed upstairs. In the meantime, his legs detach themselves from the waist and wind up marrying the girl Dog met, Dinosaur Head. The plot very much reminds me of middle school humor, except that many of the pop cultural references are well beyond the cultural knowledge of today’s 12-year-olds.
The collaged art style reminds me heavily of punk music videos (such as Bad Religion’s “Los Angeles is Burning”), and also seems heavily informed by the style of cut-and-paste zines. The layers of collage lend the art a lot of texture, which anticipates the layering of jokes and pop cultural references throughout the dialogue and background images. The art is sepia-toned with a few bursts of color across the pages, usually to set a tone or convey movement for an action (such as a burst from a flamethrower or a stream of urine). Despite the strange life circumstances of the characters (one has a fist for a head), the sepia conveys that this is everyday life for the characters, and the truly unusual is highlighted with the bright colors (gnome blood, sentient underwear). All in all, the aesthetics of the comic are quite appealing.
Like some zines, there are activities interspersed with the story. Issue one is followed by a simple card game and an activity page of activities that are impossible to complete, but rather serve as a few extra punch lines to the story (for example a solid white square with the caption “color in this arctic adventure scene”). Other bonus activities include a cut-out bow tie, cut-out face masks, a cross stitch chart, and paper dolls.
Though I love the style and the idea of the book, the content is anything but engaging. It is full of meta jokes about being offensive (“insert misogynist comment here”) and also about being in a comic (“we’re taking this comic book hostage!”). The dialogue is full of non sequiturs and not much continuing plot. The comic is self-aware in a way that borders on discomfort at best. Unlike a Deadpool comic where you expect the fourth wall to be broken a few times, Punks is a little bit too self-aware: “This comic can not sustain a single story for this long! It has weak character development, too many dick jokes, and is infantile at best.” It makes a compelling self-deprecating argument for itself that is hard to disagree with. Unfortunately, even after reading through the majority of the book, it still doesn’t feel as if the audience is “in” on many of the jokes. Instead it feels more like we’re hanging out with some new people and we don’t understand the social dynamics or the inside jokes, so we kind of stay off to the side until we can casually make our escape without offending anyone. There’s a mild attempt to be non-“PC” and offensive through degrading jokes, but it doesn’t really pan out either way. The racist jokes are not truly racist jokes, they’re jokes about joking about making racist jokes. There are a handful of “stop oppressing me” jokes, which hit a bit more on target. Thus, the audience appeal is narrow, and not very encouraging.
The concept is cute, the aesthetics are pleasing, but the lack of interesting plot or hook causes the story to appear to drag on for much longer than an average trade paperback. Given the lack of a narrative, the book as a whole it falls flat, though the art is interesting and playful. It’s much easier to appreciate Punks as bizarre art, though I think with significantly less text it would actually be funnier and more artful.
Content warnings for librarians considering including the book in their collection include crude humor, bathroom humor, dick jokes, a suicide attempt, some mild violence, mild sex jokes, and mild swearing. It’s hard to tell who exactly is the target audience, but I would guess it would appeal greatly to the same audience that consumes Adult Swim TV shows.
Punks: The Comic, Vol 1: Nutpuncher
by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Kody Chamberlain
Publisher Age Rating: T+ (Teen Plus)