Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

Home > CR Reviews

The Best Book You’re Not Reading; Maybe The Best Book About Comics Ever
posted June 24, 2008

It's come to my understanding that Bob Levin's Most Outrageous: The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsley and Chester the Molester has been covered in only haphazard fashion in the press. I've also heard that Levin's personal appearances on the book's behalf have been lightly attended. I would like to encourage you to purchase and read Bob's book. It's quite good.

imageMost Outrageous is the story of Dwaine Tinsley, the cartoonist best known for his recurring Hustler panels featuring the character of Chester the Molester. He was also the Hustler cartoons editor for a time and a versatile cartoonist who worked a variety of markets. If you're not familiar with Tinsley's Chester work, you can imagine from the name and the platform the area of humor being explored. You can also probably guess how that work might be received in court were Tinsley himself to be accused of child molestation. This happened, and Levin examines the trial and its aftermath in unblinking yet sympathetic fashion.

Levin's work here and in The Comics Journal -- where he first started doing similar profiles -- can be described as criticism through autobiography. In Most Outrageous, Levin's willingness to plunge into the horror show that develops while all but openly hoping that he can eventually 100 percent confirm Tinsley's innocence proves to be a comforting boon during the reader's own journey through a story where a more measured approach might have been hellish to endure. Levin's exploration of the legal issues and personal consequences is unflinching, but where he goes further than I've ever seen anyone go on this particular subject is in his portrayal of the intimacy of certain relationships and our resulting inability to ever understand them the way the participants seem to. It's honest, bracing and idiosyncratic work exploring a thorny issue where almost everyone else pushes the matter away for a stab at some greater perspective. Bob Levin hugs it tight, and doesn't let go.

Most Outrageous is right up there with any book in comics form this year in terms of people at conventions and on-line grabbing my arm (or its virtual equivalent) and conveying "holy shit" astonishment. It's a smaller story than Levin's The Pirates and the Mouse; there's no seeing entire generations clash on specific values the way that book allowed. There's nothing as humorous here as Levin's encounters with S. Clay Wilson or Jack Katz in the admirable Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & Pirates. I understand why Most Outrageous might have a difficult time finding an audience. I just don't find those reasons acceptable. I'm not sure that at the end of Most Outrageous you know anything that can be easily transported into other areas of your life or folded into your more general views of how the world works. It's something that happened to one family, and one that's probably not like yours at all. And yet there are moments that I keep running through my head some four months after I first finished Bob Levin's terrific book. If you can stand it, you really should read it. I give it my highest recommendation.


* Most Outrageous: The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsley and Chester the Molester, Bob Levin, Fantagraphics Books, softcover, 204 pages, 9781560979197 (ISBN13), May 2008, $19.95