Saturday, February 6, 2010
The Very Best of Herman. Jim Unger. Grub Street. (1993)
Herman is a very funny, mordant, single panel cartoon. Single panel cartoons are very tricky to pull off, there is no room for recovery, the balance between compression and information has to be very finely judged, Jim Unger is a master of the form. One of the most striking aspects to the cartoons is the lack of detail, the cast are usually rather shapeless and frequently featureless, they are fantastically expressive. The body language is eloquent and the elongated faces capture the anxiety that they are feeling.
The captions are lines spoken by one of the cast in the panel and they are little masterpieces in themselves. They never duplicate the action in the panel, they reveal it and give it bite and vitality. These cartoons are wonderfully pointed and frequently just hover above the despairing, Jim Unger uses absurdity to capture what is very funny about disaster. One of the cartoons in the collection shows a chef in a card shop asking for 143 Get-Well cards and another shows a jailer asking a prisoner in the stocks if he will be writing a book about it after he gets out. Brilliant cartoons with a sharp undertow, unmissable.