Synopsis: A series of darkly hilarious, gore-sodden comic one-offs in which a new character is introduced each page. Unspeakable violence and imaginative depravity follows suit, usually borne out of a wildly outlandish and hard not to laugh at scenario.
Review: I quite enjoyed Brian J. Orlowski's "Strange Guts: An American Septic," if for no other reason than it struck a chord in my twisted nerve system. Dark comedy is my bag, for sure, and Orlowski certainly brings that in spades with his grue-soaked Stephen King meets Calvin and Hobbes compilation. It's unlike anything I've read, without question, as no narrative thread exists between page 1 and 102. The strip consists of 102 different mini-tales, each comprised of an awesomely graphic black and white sketches and corresponding blurb. Bodily horror and humorous self-mutilation crux many of the tales, often painting the subject with a low IQ that produces a comedy of deadly errors.
For example, on page 20, the blurb reads "Accidentally trapping his pantleg in the car door, Norton, who had already chewed halfway through his leg, realized he could have simply taken off his pants." Naturally, we see a picture of Norton, covered in blood, his thighbone sticking out with a tiny piece of cloth stuck in the car door...a stupefied look on his face. "Le Clunker" can be read on the rear-panel of the car.
And that's basically what we have here, a string of unrelated horrific mishaps...all of which drenched in blood and told with an absurdist bent. Some are more inventive than others, some quite clever, others mere page fillers, but I found the ones that resonated the most had a really strong setup to begin with or, visually, included great detail. The background art that best compliments the jokey setup seem to be the ones that impress the most. Consider the example:
"Hello Everyone. This is Perry Toneum, reporting live from the 10th annual Last Will Games, opening today with its traditional intestinal pull event." Seen are a pair of gladiators playing tug-a-war with their own guts, tied together in a knot at the center of the arena. In the background, ads playing to the theme can be read. "Drink Croak-a-cola", "Don't just ask fur a light, ask for a Blud Light", "WWG: Wide World of Gore." Sure it's a bit obvious and hokey on its own, but when taken in context, the overall joke lands a bit harder.
Depending on your taste of the gruesome, there's probably only so much you can take of these twisted tales in one sitting. Smart I think, as it's the kind of coffee table or toilet read you chip away at, reading a few pages here, a few there. At least, that's how I went about it. That way it stays with you, as opposed to reading it swiftly, casting it aside and more or less forgetting about it. But even if that were the case (reading it all at once), I doubt you'd be able to shake the artwork itself. Orlowski is a talented artist, his cartoons are deft, detailed, able to capture the humor and horror of each scenario. I only wish he'd taken the time to color the illustrations. The black and white is cool and all, leaving the reader to paint with their own imagination the details of the deaths...but I can't help but think how much more visceral and effective the images would have been in glorious Technicolor. Perhaps there was a censorship issue, much like a movie rating, where the actual bloody depictions would prove too heinous, too unappealing. Certainly not a make-or-break deal, but I would have loved to see the colored version (after-all, the cover is painted!)
All in all, "Strange Guts: American Septic" is a really fun read. For all you fellow horror hounds with darkly comedic sensibilities, this is definitely something you want to seek out and indulge in. The artwork is fantastic, the situations imaginative, with the blood-splatter on endless supply. If that sounds like the holy trinity to your ears, run out cop a copy ASAP. You won't regret it.