REVIEWS: Failure, Incompetence

Tom refers to this as “a collection/retrospective of the last ten wasted years of my artistic life (ha).” Well, he’s full of wilderness muffin mix, for rather it’s a collection of zany gag cartoons and longer pieces, all in a booklet that’s strangely reassuring to hold. Several pages show the influence of Chris Ware’s jolly despair, mostly in the bits featuring a sad sack who looks like a cross between Sluggo and Ware’s gloomy potato man. Recommended: four pages adapting the audio drama at the end of the long version of Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City”. Hopefully, Tom will have something else for us to groove upon before another decade passes. – Mark Campos, POOPSHEET Oct 18, 2005

Want to make your book critic-proof? Or at least for wishy-washy critics like me? Here’s a quote from the brief (but hilarious and insightful) intro: “I hope that you find the jokes-to-dollars-spent ratio to be within acceptable parameters.” That’s it, I’m shut down completely. $5 is a bit much for a comic, granted, or at least it is in my fantasy 1997 world where that sort of thing was still rare. But all you have to do is pick this thing up and you can tell by sheer weight that you’re getting a lot of pages. And he’s right, there are jokes packed all over the pages, so even if you don’t like two or three of them, well, there’s still 5 more right there either on that page or the page next to it to make you laugh. The only complaint that I have about this is that, as this is my first impression of the guy, I could have done with a slightly smaller book that didn’t have some of the dumber strips in here. But then, as humor is mostly subjective, who’s to say what that is? At least this way you get to see the bad with the good. So what’s actually in here, as I seem to be skirting around that? Well, it’s mostly because there’s no chance for me to tell you everything in here without this being the longest review ever, so I’ll just stick to a (relative) few of them. Australians, outer space adventures, voodoo, fat rats, superhero school, and when he was a headbanger. That’s probably about 1/100 of the book right there. He also has a few text pieces that I really loved, including the best blanket apology that I’ve ever seen… – OPTICAL SLOTH / Whitey, Sept 13, 05

“Going for gags by the pound, the author seems to have cleared out his comic closet hoping some of these jokes would hit the mark, gags, strips, stories, you name it.” – QUIMBY’S

Creator Pappalardo refers to this book as a retrospective of the last ten wasted years of his artistic life. While he’s being a bit facetious, I do wish he’d have been a bit more judicious about presenting the best of his material, rather than seemingly all of it. The inconsistency here is enough to drive you insane, and it exposes his weakest ability, which is finding a solid ending to a story or gag. It’s like watching an episode of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE made up solely of material presented in the last 30 minutes of the show. There’s talent here; they key is for the artist to mine through his stuff and find 20-22 pages to put out a really solid comic. – COMICS WAITING ROOM, June 20, 05

…Lastly, I turn my attention to Failure, Incompetence, a 60-page black & white collection of cartoons, drawings, and text bits by Tom Pappalardo. At 5 bucks, this gives a pretty good per-pound value for the money. Tom’s pretty blunt and honest about this book, presenting it as what it is: a collection of miscellaneous stuff that is often not particularly amazing. The closest thing I can think of to this is a book of assorted bits that Mark Crilley (Akiko) put out a while back – no single item is compelling enough to publish, but as a collection it gives you an insight into the way this person’s creative mind works. Slice-of-life vignettes, absurd single panel gags, bits that you just sit there and say “huh” over. Very “alternative” cartooning. I didn’t laugh, but I did grin a few times, and considering the author’s notes, I guess that was the point. Aside from that, I rather liked the design of the cover – very stylish, though I suspect the drawing on the cover is an enlarged bit of clip art and not the work of the author. – SHOCK TRAUMA STUDIOS

“This book is a laugh riot. Everybody should have their own copy, heck, everybody should have two copies. One to keep on them and one to keep in their nuclear fallout shelter. Because you know, once you’re stuck in there, you ain’t coming out. Heck, you’ll probably be drinking your own urine at some point, so, you’re going to need a good laugh to keep your spirits up!” – J Boyd

If misfortune happens to pass this comic your way, flip to the page with the one-panel comic surrounded by dotted lines before you pass it over. The one with the picture of the guy looking at his fridge, saying “Hey. You ever notice you’ve got alot (sic) of crap taped to your refrigerator?” and at the bottom it says “Tape this to your refrigerator.” It’s clever in an “I know I’m not but look at me anyways!” fashion, complete with a spelling or grammatical faux pas for that final punt of embarrassment. And thus is the philosophy of the Tom Pappalardo humor.

Or I presume so. This may not be representative of Pappalardo’s normal work; Failure, Incompetence is a collection of unpublished comic strips, a self-proclaimed wastebasket of a creative mind (and, my God, does it ever show). Failure… assumes an air of smug, detached irony, as a lot indie comics are wont to do. And it could’ve been forgivable had the material actually been good, which the front cover almost promises. Colored in a tacky, 70s-upholstrey green, the cover has a bespectacled business man, all laughs and giggles, dropping his suitcase and doing a jig. The drawing’s cartoony, yet understated and attractive. Where did he come from? Won’t you let him back into the limelight, please? Alas, he’s never seen again.
Instead we’re treated to losers and slackers in panels overstuffed with thick marker lines and detail, as though these suburban wanderers biggest adversary isn’t boredom but a little white space. You can call it art brut, but it honestly comes off more like frantic busywork. And Pappalardo makes no apologies about it. In his introduction, he acknowledges the “bad puns,” “illegible lettering,” “inconsistent artwork,” and “recycled ideas.” But he’s sick of his “self-deprecating-apology schtick” and doesn’t want to do it anymore. Well, thank you salesmanship.

After prohibiting us to enjoy the book at face value, and shedding the kvetching routine, Pappalardo resorts to the worst thing of all: a forced vociferousness (“So screw you. I rule,” reads the next paragraph) that we know is phony. And he knows that we know. So to stay ahead of the audience he takes the last resort of pumping up the volume and cramming as much as he can together, each page becoming a collision of doodles and dialogue. They’re mostly passe potshots at obvious subjects like Starbucks (“Filtered through the asscrack of an old homeless man”), rock stars (“The next song is about how alienated I feel” the singer addresses to his stadium audience), and the comic industry (with Spawn hat flying off his head, a kid exclaims “Holy moly! A first edition die-cut foil-wrapped special insert pull-out-poster-included limited signed numbered rare first issue of Cloth-Man!).
Two comics do hint at what Pappalardo might be capable of with a more serious attitude. The first runs eleven pages, the longest story in the collection by a large margin. It revolves around another retail slave that populates Failure…, John, working at a tacky dollar shop. A larger mall had recently been built next to the mall John works in and is slowly sucking the life and money from John’s mall. It’s a clever unique perception of suburban America (the mall John works in opens “their doors to mom-and-pop stores similar to the ones [it] helped displace less than a decade before”), but before any polemics are set up or even before John takes any actions, the story shrinks back to its usual self and ends with a joke about public bathroom masturbation.

The other good comic is a six panel stretch about a clown who drops a 200 pound weight on his head, break dances, and does Nixon impressions to the elated laughter of an audience. After the gig, he loses the grin but the sound of laughter remains even as he waits for a bus alone. And lying in bed that night, he stares at the ha ha has still hanging over him. The sad clown’s been done to death, but it’s always been the sad-on-the-inside routine. Here, the laughter itself, the lifeblood of the clown that begins to sear like acid. It’s a crisp, precise cogitation on the fine line between being laughed at and being laughed with, something all too fitting for a comic that toes that line with the grace of Bozo in size 50 shoes. – Alex Vo, PopMatters, Jan 25, 2006

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