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Suture Self
posted June 10, 2009


Creator: Leo Cullum
Publishing Information: Andrews McMeel, softcover, 128 pages, 2009, $12.99
Ordering Numbers: 0740780158 (ISBN10), 9780740780158 (ISBN13)

It's sort of hard for me to dig deep into a book like this one, primarily because it's limited by choice but also because I'm happy such a thing still exists. In an age that favors completeness and archival thoroughness, it's refreshing to see a veteran cartoonist release a themed book, in this case medical cartoons. These kinds of books were more common when cartoons had greater ubiquity and parceling them out by subject matter helped the material find an audience: you got golf books for the people in your life that were golfers, religious cartoons for the church-goers and so on. I assume Suture Self would go to doctors, primarily, perhaps even into the waiting rooms of those who profess to have a sense of humor about the perceived excesses of their profession.

It's solid material, well-constructed. The comics stuck with me for as long as it took to put the book back on the shelf. I was more impressed by the variations on theme than I was any individual selection. You can get a sense of how Cullum works, rifling through ideas until he finds something that yields multiple opportunities for gagwork. Some of the routines become increasingly bizarre the more you see them, such as several cartoons that feature a half-animal, half-human hybrid that then gives a beast-like spin on some throwaway doctor's line. The dog-headed doctor who declares to his patient "Well, your nose feels cold" looks okay, but a bunny-man told to "hop up on the table" comes across like he's on a day pass from the Prison of Warden Moreau.

My dad would have liked this book: he liked jokes and puns and clever juxtapositions way more than I do. For me, a lot of the pleasure here was like watching an uptown stand-up comedian work a stage in a tape from 1962 or so: you can recognize the work involved even when you aren't moved by it. And yet to see someone perform like that right now, well, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to root for him a little -- not in a patronizing way, which is how that sounds, but as a tip of a hat for the increasingly lost art of squeezing every last bit of juice out of a few basic concepts, thinking funny about the quotidian.