Book of the Month
What did the
Artist: Jim Rugg
Not long ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, a comics professional, who asked if I’d heard of Jim Rugg’s Afrodisiac. I told him I hadn’t heard of it, and asked if that’s the same guy who drew that Minx book, The Plain Janes, a while back. He said yes, and proceeded to gush about this book in a way I’d never heard from him. I tend to balk at that sort of hyperbole, but he did pique my interest. With a stack of unread books on the shelf, I thought I’d get to it eventually, but didn’t make much of an effort. A week or so later, a package arrived, unrequested, with a copy of Afrodisiac for my perusal. Granted, this is also how most of my other unread books arrived, but it was short, and I threw it on top of the heap.
Good lord, am I glad I did.
With Afrodisiac, you’ve got something that only exists in comics, which are always my favorites. By blending the different historical eras of comics, and their specific graphic looks, with blaxploitation films, and superhero tropes, we’re left with something new, an explosion of comic fun and silliness. The whole book is a packaged experience that delighted and surprised me in new ways, and delivered a whole lot of not-sure-if-I-should-be-laughing-at-this laughs. The whole thing works together as one package, and at 96 pages, it’s damn near perfect.
Afrodisiac, tall, muscled, afro sporting, and smooth as hell, is part pimp/part superhero/part daytime janitor Alan Diesler. But at night, when the streets call, he’s the unbeatable Afrodisiac. Evil can’t defeat him, and women can’t resist him. The book is a selection of stories from the long run of non-existent Afrodisiac comics from the past. Each is a short glimpse into a simple Afrodisiac story, done in the style of specific comics from the past. The coloring, and production are all done to mimic comics from different eras, and if they were somehow able to pump in that old comic smell, you’d almost believe they were that old. Like comics from the past, the themes and genres tend to jump around a lot. There are monster stories, romance stories, science adventures, cosmic mystery, gritty street comics, kung fu fighting comics, giant monsters, and more. There’s even a convincing manga cover. I’m not normally a fan of a series of disconnected stories in a book like this, but every page I turned generated another smile. It was always sharp, always clever, and always fun. Plus he fights both Nixon and God.
Written by Brian Maruca, with whom Rugg had previously collaborated on Street Angel, I really didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this. It’s part superhero parody, a style that is so often done badly, and Maruca nailed the perfect tone for this piece, never taking itself at all seriously, but never easing up on the jokes, wordplay and fun. It felt tight and well thought out, but also especially whimsical with a healthy dose of edginess. This book isn’t for kids, and the language might surprise you, because it fools you into thinking you’re reading comics from the 70’s, which were as sterile as baby bottles. Then you get hit with some straight up blaxploitation speak, and you remember that these aren’t actual old comics. This should almost come off as hokey and forced, but it just never does. Instead, it’s just plain entertaining.
As much fun as the words in the book are, and they are a whole lot of fun, the artwork is really where this book comes alive. Jim Rugg’s style bobs and weaves to suit each chapter. The pencils are subtly different from story to story, but the actual color and production changes wildly. The pages look like old comic book pages, as if you’d just dug these issues out from a soggy bag in your grandparent’s attic. The colors are bright and vibrant in some chapters, faded and washed out in others, and in some the dot pitch color slip charmingly outside their boundaries, which is very familiar to all of us who’ve been reading comics for a long time. They key here is the total package approach Rugg took, and man does it show. Afrodisiac kept delighting me the more I read it.
My favorite thing about the book was the collection of covers interspersed in the chapters. Spanning even more genres and production tricks than the stories themselves, the covers were, every one, magic. The titles never failed to elicit a laugh in their not-so-subtle sexual references, and over the top, bombastic cover styles, evoking many forgotten eras in comic book cover creation. They border right on the edge of juvenile, with headlines like, Will the Afrodisiac survive “The Bush”? and The True Story of a Woman Driven Crazy by Too Much Chocolate! The list goes on.
Afrodisiac is mad comic book fun from start to finish. Don’t expect a deep treatise on philosophy, or a politically correct story of right and wrong. Do expect some of the funniest and well done indie comics, push the boundaries of satire and genre on every page. Like every woman who comes into contact with Afrodisiac, you’ll be hard pressed not to fall for his dark manly charms.
Afrodisiac beats up a giant bug with his car, while driving. It is spectacular.