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The Doofus Omnibus
By Rick Altergott
Published by Fantagraphics Books

I like Doofus, although I'll be damned if I can tell you why.

It's not funny, although it is comical. You don't laugh out loud, but you chuckle in your mind. Doofus doesn't elevate the artform or change my life or make me see the true potential of comics. It's just fucking odd, is what it is.

Doofus and his pal Henry Hotchkiss are like some sort of idealized, panty-huffing village idiots. This volume contains Doofus's "Greatest Adventures," as it says on the cover, but they never do very much. The most elaborate story here sees the pair stage a panty-huffing party at the home of Miss Juniper, a buxom, Wally Wood-esque brunette who leaves town for a while with a handsome, impotent clod. And again, not a whole lot happens.

The joy of Doofus is in the art, which looks so much like Wood (right down to the lettering) that it's scary. The joy is in the nearly David Lynch-like pointlessness to the stories, which surprise not out of clever plot developments, but out of their sheer readability. There's no reason to read Doofus, and yet once you've started you really can't stop.

It never occurred to me to wonder before, but now I am questioning whether "Rick Altergott" is even a real person. Why is there an interview with Dan Clowes at the beginning of this volume? And why do some of the backgrounds look so much like Clowes's penwork? Is Clowes a huge influence on Altergott, or is this some sort of elaborate gag? Am I even now making a fool of myself for wondering if the name "Altergott" is a clever hint -- alter ego? Alter God? What the fuck is this book's power?

Doofus is stupid, but Altergott -- whoever he is -- is brilliant. The cartooning recalls the very best Mad comics under the guidance of Harvey Kurtzman as drawn by Wally Wood, perhaps after both of them had suffered severe injuries to their pre-frontal lobes. The Doofus Omnibus is well worth reading, filled with irony and satire and as easy to grasp as a wisp of smoke -- or the scent of yesterday's panties pulled from the bottom of Miss Juniper's hamper when she's not looking. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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