Monday, August 22, 2011
MYTHCOMICS #25: YUMMY FUR #1-18 (1986-89)
PLOT-SUMMARY: Ed the Clown lives in a city overrun with cannibalistic pygmies. He has the misfortune to receive an interdimensional transplant from an alternate-Earth dimension, in that the head of his normal penis is replaced by the miniature head of President Ronald Reagan. While the inhabitants of the other dimension strive to retrieve the head of their president-- which remains able to talk even while it’s a part of Ed’s anatomy-- Ed is pursued by police and pygmies. He’s succored from time to time by a few allies: Christian, a ghoul-like alien, and Josie, a young woman who becomes a vampire after she’s murdered by a serial killer. Josie kills her murderer but a ghost tells her that her killer’s spirit will go to heaven because he repented his act, while Josie’s spirit will go to hell because she didn’t have time to repent of evil. Eventually, after Ed’s story has hosted a menagerie of bizarre characters-- cow-stealing aliens, Jack’s beanstalk, vampire hunters and the Frankenstein Monster-- Ed regains a normal penis. However, Josie is killed by the disembodied hand of her killer, which causes her vampiric form to be exposed to sunlight.
MYTH-SUMMARY: I haven’t attempted to trace in great detail this YUMMY FUR continuity-- later collected under the title “Ed the Happy Clown”-- in the same detail that I have in other “1001 comics” posts. Here a full plot-summation would be gilding the lily, in that plot is not really very important in Chester Brown’s surrealistic opus. In this story characters come and go with no more causality than one sees in “Waiting for Godot,” thus rendering the idea of plot-mechanics nugatory. At a convention I asked Chester Brown if he had any particular reason for using the Frankenstein Monster in issue #16, whose cover shows the creature skydiving. As I remember, he said he just happened to want to draw Frankenstein at the time, so he worked that desire into the narrative.
“Life sure can be ironic sometimes” states a minor character in YUMMY FUR #2 (albeit in a side-story not connected to the “Ed” continuity). Ed the Clown is one of the most perfect examples of a protagonist that works within the literary mythos Northrop Frye calls an “irony,” for ironies concern characters stuck in a world where human action can have no meaningful effect. Ed’s first six-page story in YUMMY FUR #1 depicts him on his way to a hospital to entertain sick kids, only to learn from a doctor that “the hospital burned down and everyone died except us doctors.” One page later Ed breaks his leg in two places purely from the action of walking down the street, suggesting that his pipestem limbs are always in danger of shattering. He’s almost eaten by a horde of rats, and he’s only saved because city authorities turn loose a tribe of pygmies to fight the rats. However, the authorities blunder by air-dropping the pygmies, who go splat on the city-concrete and are apparently eaten by the rats. Ed is simply “saved” because the rats overlook him for their new prey.
Ed’s penis is victimized in the course of a very involved storyline. The scientists of another dimension invent a device with which they can use our world as a “dump” for all of their “dumps”-- i.e., a place to deposit unwanted tons of fecal matter. Initially the fecal matter comes through one man’s anus, but he dies and the “hole” to the other dimension is blocked when President Reagan (who looks nothing like the real article) falls into the machine. Somehow this causes his head to be plucked from his body and exchanged with the head of Ed’s penis. Presumably Brown enjoyed the prospect of debasing President Reagan, turning a figurative dick into a literal one, but to say the least it “unmans” Ed as well. In issue #8 he breaks down weeping, telling his talking penis, “My life is always like this. Everything’s always awful. Even my own penis hates me.” The Reagan-penis, after raging at Ed a little more, tries to calm him by telling him that it’s not his fault that “awful things happen to you,” which is quite true: Ed is the victim of both his author and his literary mythos. He does get a normal penis again, but Ed only survives all of his ordeals by dumb luck.
Josie, thanks to having become a vampire, seems at first glance the obverse of her friend Ed. She’s killed by her crazed lover, and becomes a vampire because she was “actively engaged in a grievous sin.” As a vampire Josie is immensely strong and cannot be killed by conventional weapons, and she conceives a sisterly protectiveness toward the helpless clown. But in Brown’s chaotic world none of her heroic actions can save her, for she’s condemned to hell as her killer apparently is not. In addition to being fated to go to hell once her undead life ends, some quirk of fate allows her killer’s disembodied hand to prematurely end that life.
In the novel MANHATTAN TRANSFER, author John Dos Passos shows fires continually breaking out all over New York, a leitmotif that suggests that the city is falling into apocalyptic disorder. Brown’s use of fire isn’t quite a leitmotif, but it’s certainly significant that the ED story starts with a hospital burning down (except for the savvy professional men) and ends with the conflagration of an apartment building, in which only Josie the Vampire dies. Fire is irregularly seen throughout the storyline-- Ed dreams of a fiery void, aliens speak out in space amid flaming bodies-- and the last panel of YUMMY FUR #18 is just one big panel of flames, suggesting the fires of hell to which Josie stands condemned. But surely it’s not just Josie that stands condemned. Her sacrifice saves Ed for a little while, as the sacrifice of Pirithous saves Theseus from death. But Ed and his world remain well and truly doomed.