Hey, you know what makes things funnier? Talking about what makes them funny. Of course, I’m ironically joking about this, as dissecting any joke instantly drains all the humor out of it. Luckily for the audience at the Approaches to Humor panel at this year’s HeroesCon, you had three truly funny guys dissecting the hilarious art of comic book laughter: Evan Dorkin (Milk & Cheese, Yo Gabba Gabba!); Roger Langridge (The Muppets, Thor the Mighty Avenger); and Richard Thompson (Cul de sac). The panel was moderated by The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald, who has also been known to tell a joke or two in her day.
Starting out by addressing the above, MacDonald quoted the famous maxim, “Talking about humor is like dissecting a frog: everything dies. We’re going to talk about humor, but not kill it. So I’m going to go down the line, and—“
“Timing,” interrupted Evan Dorkin, to laughter from the audience.
By the way, recapping the humor panel also kills the humor. Fun fact!
Anyway, on the subject of influences, all three quoted Monty Python as an influence, with The UK’s The Goon Show being a close second.
“I was always into comedy in general as a kid, and The Goon Show was the single biggest influence on my comics – outside of comics,” said Langridge. “I don’t know if I knew it was always what I wanted to do, but it’s what my strengths were.”
“I wasn’t the class clown, I was the class psychotic,” chimed in Dorkin. “I got kicked out of a lot of schools for physical comedy – they call it violence now. It grew out of an attention-seeking thing. Some people are strong. Some people are attractive. Some people are funny. I made people laugh, because I couldn’t win any fights.”
Growing up, Dorkin heard his parents tearing apart Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which made him desperately want to see it. “My mother, who swears she hated Monty Python, took me to see them live, and I’ve never seen people laugh so hard in my life,” he continued. “Even my mother had her mascara smearing down her face, and I said, “Mom, you’re laughing!” and she said, “I’m not! I’m not!””
When asked what comics were like growing up for him, Langridge said, “There’s no comic industry in New Zealand. That’s why I left.”
Moving on to talk about their work, Thompson talked about how it’s tough to get into doing a regular strip at first, but over time, the characters start talking to you and taking over. “When you stop hearing voices, it stops working.”
“The great thing about the anthology format is, if you don’t have ideas for X character, you hopefully have a notebook of a million ideas you can pull on,” added Dorkin. “But if you are doing a character, and the characters aren’t speaking to you, it’s like tearing your hair out.”
Asked how he came up with Milk & Cheese, two of his most famous creations, Dorkin quipped, “I was drunk.”
More accurately, he was drunk, waiting for food, and drew a carton of milk and a piece of cheese saying something rude. He would be writing letters to friends, and would include a drawing of Milk & Cheese threatening to break their legs. “You know, very subtle humor.”
Next, the group talked about what’s funny – and what’s not. Turns out generally bodily functions are funny, and pieces of people falling off is funny. “Drugs are not funny, because it’s always a you had to be there thing,” said Dorkin. “Monkeys are funny, but they’ve been played to death, like zombies.”
“You have to take it on a case by case basis,” said Langdridge. “John Cleese said the funniest thing he’d ever heard, Monty Python was on a tour in Germany seeing a concentration camp. As they left, the gates were closing, and Graham Chapman ran up, shaking the gates and shouting, “Let us in! We’re Jews!””
Added Dorkin, “I like the idea of that because being Jewish, we’re always complaining about being kept out of places.”
Asked about the difference between live performance and comics, Dorkin said that – though he’s done both – there’s just not that fist-pumping moment with comics, the guitar solo when you finish, because you’re working in a room at home, alone. Langdrige felt that his style of humor just works better on the comic page. And when Thompson was asked would he like to perform ever, he just leaned to the microphone and said, “No,” to laughter from the audience.
Briefly, Langridge talked about his new Boom! book Snarked (which we’ll have a full interview with the writer about in a bit), his take on the world created by Lewis Carroll. It was his attempt to write a longer form story with – borrowed – characters of his own, and will be out in October.
And Evan Dorkin really wished he could talk about what he’s doing, but he hasn’t really done much recently – joking about picking through trashcans, and begging for scraps. Well, we think he was joking. [NOTE: he was joking.]
Lastly, the talk turned to how printed media is dying, and web comics are the only real way to go with comic book humor. But you know, they talked about it in a funny way. And with that, everybody laughed! I mean, left.
Plenty more to come from HeroesCon 2011, including our full interview with Roger Langridge, and more!