Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Morbid Humor

Originally posted on September 28, 2013

I generally try to accentuate the positive, as the song lyric goes, but when I was younger (and still, a little) I cultivated a degree of morbid humor. I liked the characters of the cartoonist Charles Addams and the gross stuff in the EC horror comics line. In my own fantasy-art I have imagined various little troll-like and monster critters, which over time I’ve transformed on the whole from nasty to cute.

I confess that as a teen I too used to like sick humor and drew horrible pictures of hellish monsters—they were prevalent in the comic books of my early adolescence, and also ugly is easier to draw than beautiful.I drew horrible characters because they were satisfying, they were easy (it’s always easier to draw messed up faces than symmetrical pretty ones, creatures, too), and they had a pre-goth “shock” value to them. Epater les bourgeoisie. I still have a slight streak of this and at least appreciate it to some degree.

I recently discovered a book in our library titled Billy Fog and the Gift of Trouble Sight (by Guillame Bianco, 2012). From the synopsis on the website: “Like some other kids his age, Billy Fog has to wear glasses. But Billy has the gift of “Trouble Sight,” so when he takes his glasses off, he sees all the things that other kids can’t—ghosts and ghouls, vampires and monsters, a world of darkness and danger and above all the thing that kids aren’t supposed to see: death. Is Trouble Sight a gift, then, or a curse? A new kind of graphic novel—part storybook, part fable, part gazetteer and bestiary of the horrible and fantastic, inspired by the likes of Tim Burton and Lemony Snicket.” I’d add also the work of Edward Gorey, an odd and little known book titled “Fungus the Bogeyman,” and the whole fun of Halloween.

The Billy Fog book is a “dark” story of a morbid and slightly sadistic little boy coping with the death of a pet cat. He has a “sickened” sense—play on the phrase, “second sense.” “Grown ups are murderers—they killed the kids they used to be. They have no imagination; it scares them.” Finding the world boring, he fills it with fantasy—and in his case, morbid fantasy. I didn’t really like the story, but I did like the “anarchic bestiaries” the author created. I couldn’t help but wonder if the boy’s melancholy character-structure reflects the boy’s attempts to cope with the existential fear of death, including a bit sadism (especially towards his little sister) as an identification with the aggressor, and his melancholy as a masochistic self-punishment for that sadism.

One of the creatures the creatures in this book is a half-human sprite that lives at the bottom of a puddle, a “puddle princess.” In keeping with his bestiary of vampires and ghosts and all, the author-artist creates a whole back-story of the puddle princess’ birth and her relation to other creepy-crawlies. Since I make up critters in my cartoon-art, I rather liked this.

But also I’m becoming aware of the indulgence in negativity as a way to cope with vulnerability, and turning away from it more. So “dark” stories have come to vaguely annoy me, as do all kinds of bad news and causes that need my money and participation. Still, I notice both sides deep in there.

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