by various artists
(Alternative Comics, 2003)
The great thing about alternative comics is that they allow artists to express their individual vision without worrying about how popular their idea is. The weakness of alternative comics is that sometimes that vision is so personal it falls right in the audience's blind spot. Humor is especially subjective, based heavily on shared experiences, cultural knowledge and a slippery sense of timing.
So the numerous creators of Hickee set themselves quite a challenge as they set out to popularize their Babel of voices. Anyone should be able to find at least a few favorites in such a diverse collection. There's the fairly linear "Boris and Friends," strange tales narrated by a caricature of a Frenchman so exaggerated he achieves muppethood even within his own cartoon universe. There's delightfully bizarre work like Vamberto Maduro's "Missing" milk carton saga and Scott Campbell's animated "Caveman Ninja Meets Zombie Jogger." Mercifully few of the strips revolve around sex; if your maiden aunt idly flips through this, she's got a good chance of not seeing "Dick" or the zoologically arousing "Movie Night #3." Less genteel sensibilities will get a grin form the extreme saga of "Human Monkey" and the surprisingly sweet erotica of "Pipe Dreams." Surreal or straightforward, G or PG, the artists of Hickee have developed distinctive styles, and no two strips look the same. The Sanrioesque "Space Cat" keeps strange company with the snarled lines of the "Klamptropians" and the retro commercial look of "Melvin." Then common trait of all the artists is how competent they are in their chosen style; even if Hickee was a total failure as a humor collection, it would be worth having as an art book.
Of course, Hickee doesn't fail in its mission of humor. Nonetheless, and under threat of being labeled tragically ignorant, I admit that I don't get many of the jokes here. I can only assume that the idea of "Willy the Mean Whale," consisting of nothing but a whale spouting random insults, has some personal significance to Nathan Stapely, who also contributes the darkly funny and frighteningly common view of "Picking Up Chicks." And I have no idea what to make of some one-shots by the Hickee gang. Doubtless there's a good reason that a person wiggling their fingers and saying "Loodle Loo" should be striking, but I don't know what that reason may be. And I'm probably better off not knowing the appeal of the "Don't Lie to Me Board Game."
But that's the trick with humor. Every joke has a target audience, a perfect groove, and you're either it or you're not. Hickee's shotgun blast of contributors assures that at least some of them target you. And even if a pellet or two should miss you by an inch, they won't be boring. Buy it for the art, buy it for the humor and especially buy it to keep these lunatics off the street.