Asbury Park Comic Con’s Carousel Comics Performance Gets Totally NSFW

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The live “Carousel Slide Show” performance of comics at Asbury Park Comic Con arranged by R. Sikoryak (Masterpiece Comics) and Kriota Willberg (and expert in cartoon anatomy) in their series of Carousel performances that are often staged in New York but frequently appear at comic shows, was all about pushing the boundaries of comics. Some of those boundaries were distinctly sexual, and there was plenty of fair warning that this event was not for children, but also boundaries in content and observation about the constraints and absurdities of modern life.

R. Sikoryak and Kriota Willberg delved into “adapting the classics” by presenting a complete rendering of Tom Sawyer in Family Circus cartoon style, presenting the main “beats” of Tom’s journey in a pattern of movement through maps displaying movement through Tom’s geography with full emphasis on humor, pathos, and melodrama. “Life is but a trouble. If only I could die temporarily”, young Tom commented at one point.

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They followed this with a little “existentialism to end your day”, with “Action Camus“, “starring” The Stranger. Camus’ famous character was presented as a superman-like hero figure in vignettes from the novel with contrasting and hilarious results. Action Camus began by answering the question, “Do you love me?” with “It’s a meaningless question but I suppose not”.  He faced off against his “deadly foe”, the Prosecutor moving toward “execution day” where he commented, after pummeling people, “It’s all I hoped for”.

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Miss Lasko Gross presented a preview excerpt from her upcoming adventure Henni from Z2 Comics with a tense, soul-searching narrative about the true grit necessary to pursue artistic freedom in her totalitarian fictional world not all that different from Camus’.  In Lasko Gross’ comic, Henny escapes punishment for admiring “obscene” sculptor and finds herself “dishonorable but free”.  After wandering in a wood, she finds herself in the company of the sculptor known as  “the Disruptor”, who tells the history of her own resistance to oppression after watching her father’s suffering under the current regime wherein “all art was banned”. The Disruptor follows her father’s advice not be a “coward”, even if it means her work is relentlessly destroyed.  “Art needs an audience”, the sculptor explains, and points out that subversiveness may still find a way to influence society. Lasko Gross’s resonant panels were charged with the pared-down truths about art of resistance against societal standards as her characters keep pushing against the walls of a dominant governmental system.

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Danny Hellman, who has contributed comics to many illustrated magazines, including the Village Voice,  Screw, and his newest anthology Typhon, presented for our consideration several “Novelties and gifts of distinction from Dirtco”, in the form of short advertizements. Each one suggested aspects of human behavior that were fairly abhorrent but all too familiar and worthy of satire, from “Rubber caveman and ape masks” that make one feel free to “regress” in behavior to 1001 insults to “drive weaklings to suicide”, that enable you to “assert dominance in any situation” and a Ventroloquist dummy with the sales slogan: “who cares if your friends cry”, Hellman’s advertizements were based on “real models” of old ads.

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He was accompanied by an upbeat telethon or elevator music sound track as he presented the “Baphomet”, a “decorative pentagram”, made of mylar you can use to “seal your doom” and a “Zarathustra says so booklet” you can use to “dominate weaker men”.  The critique of human nature continued in Hellman’s second comic offering, “Tales of the Sodom Ape Men and the Electronic God” (2009) showing the progress of pink apes through their own development in military history and violence, all to an upbeat trumpet soundtrack.

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Dean Haspiel, whose graphic novel Fear My Dear: A Billy Dogma Experience has just been published by Z2 Comics, led the descent into the NSFW portion of the panel’s entertainment with a reading/performance of  “Bring Me the Heart of Billy Dogma”, a sexually charged (in just about every way) tale of lovers Billy and Jane trashing their hometown of Trip City with their own erotically devastating superpowers. He was aided in this steamy performance by cartoonists Christa Cassano and Danny Hellman.

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With classic Billy dialogue during the lovers spat like “I’m about to get inconsiderate”, the comic explores frustrated love making breaking out all over town.  There was plenty of nudity, and of course, make up sex.  “These are autobiographical stories”, Haspiel quipped. They also presented Haspiel’s  “Sex Planet” story which was, if possible, even more explicit, depicting Billy and Jane  with “mid sections struggling” and a love scene that reveals Jane’s thigh tattoo directing Billy to her underwear with the slogan:“lift here to open”, more destruction ensues, concluding with the comment on humanity, “The things we do”.

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Kriota Willberg entertained the audience with her “Pathology Laffs” featuring “phun with phagocytes” and also her newly published mini comic  a “Pictorial Anatomy of James Bond” which includes famous scenes from James Bond films rendered to “remove the skin” and show anatomically correct musculature.

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Stills used as illustrations ranged from Casino Royale, to The Man with the Golden Gun. Since this is James Bond we’re talking about, the scenes were either bedroom-set or combat related.  What better way to explore such a super-human spy than through emphasizing the human basis behind his action scenes and down time?

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The Carousel event saved the most explicit comic for last, with artist on the comic Christa Cassano and Dean Haspiel performing “The Lap Date”, an episode from Seth Kushner’s Schmuck collection (which just today was successfully funded on Kickstarter featuring over 2o artists).

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The “Lap Date” is a semi-autobiographical comic depicting Adam Kessler’s search for love, and navigating the confusing atmosphere of a strip club where he finds an exotic dancer who loves comics and has to wonder after an enthusiastic conversation (while becoming increasingly aroused) whether the dancer might like him back. Though “it felt like a first date” to Kessler, he keeps reminding himself that it’s a “business transaction”  but the experience leaves him questioning whether there might be  more at stake. And the comic doesn’t leave much more of the encounter to the imagination, either, which provoked plenty of hilarity from the audience, particularly in its discussion of bodily fluids.

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If you want to know what’s going on at the most experimental and off-beat level of comics, then make sure to check out a Carousel event, if one comes your way. They are a great reminder of the ways in which comics continue to engage directly with lived human experience well beyond the pale of social sanction and are always uncensored, though Carousel also stages specifically all-ages events which are purely kid-friendly too.

carousel_April2014_AsburyPark_BESTHannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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