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T Rex Trying
posted February 12, 2013
 

imageCreator: Hugh Murphy
Publishing Information: Plume, hardcover, 128 pages, February 2013, $13.
Ordering Numbers: 0452299020 (ISBN10), 9780452299023 (ISBN13)

This joke book about a T. Rex thwarted from performing everyday tasks seems pretty cute. The humor arises from both our feeling superior to this fiercely effective killing machine being kept from quotidian functions by the odd shape of his body, and our desire to root him on as he glumly takes his best shot at it. Ninety percent of the time our lead's frustrations derive from the fact that his hands are too tiny to perform the way one might like. Some of the more effective jokes are a half-step up from the straight-up pitiful hand gags, some depending on our using visual clues, like the pattern of a painting job, to figure out exactly how our man failed.

I would assume this has an on-line permutation somewhere; it feels like it should. I don't know if there's anything new to be said about a feature moving from that kind of exposure into a print book. For me, at least, T. Rex Trying fails to drive home its off-note gags in a way that might make the book greater than the sum of its single panels, which at least leaves open the possibility that it's enjoyed a successful life as series of such panels. Putting all of these gags into a book places a great deal of pressure on the gags that break away from formula: the ones where T. Rex might eat someone rather than simply fail, or the few where he finds success with one implement of three despite failing with the other two, or even those where T. Rex falls prey to a different physical impediment altogether in fulfilling his recurring, Sisyphean destiny. I don't think those gags are as strong as they need to be to stitch the book together into a satisfying whole. It's too bad, because actually reading a bunch of the more standard gags inculcates a strong desire to experience those moments of surprise and release; seeing this dumb creature try again and again makes you wish for a different outcome and for that outcome to be as effective and as startling as possible.

I don't know who buys joke books these. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the necessity of simply being able to provide someone with a gift has kept the entire category afloat. It wouldn't surprise me if they're kept alive by purchasing inertia. There's an extravagance to how wholly unnecessary something like T. Rex Trying is. I'm not sure it's crafted well enough to have been effective in the days one might buy something as ostentatious as an entire printed volume to consume a singular, straight-forward artistic experience. Even then, the ones that cling to memory have a variety of access points. I can imagine looking at a B. Kliban or an Anne Cleveland book again just to enjoy the art chops on display or the subtle complexities of a few gags; I would not extend that desire to the work in T. Rex Trying. I wonder if the book's main audience isn't people with an already built-in affection for the material in an on-line iteration that might wish to reward the author more directly via a purchase. That doesn't mean the rest of us will even find it easy to enter his world.

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