Welcome (Back) to the House of Fun

A column article by: Zack Davisson

Milk and Cheese! Milk and Cheese! Milk and Cheeeeeeeeese! A Wedge of Spite and a Carton of Hate! Milk and Cheese! If you think I am getting really excited about dairy products, then you are absolutely right. Dairy products gone bad!

Dark Horse Presents #10 sees the return of not only the venerable Milk and Cheese, but The Murder Family as well. And not just for a little sneak-a-peak one-shot. (How this triumphant return of the House of Fun didn’t rate the cover I don’t understand. In fact, they don’t even get a blurb. If you aren’t a regular DHP buyer, you would have no way of knowing what waits within). According to Evan Dorkin’s blog, we can look forward to more of the House of Fun in upcoming issues of DHP. My cup runneth over.

 

What’s so great about Milk and Cheese?

For you modern kids who weren’t around in the late 80s and 90s, it was a dark time for comics. The dreaded speculation boom meant that sales were astronomically up—a single issue of X-Men­ could outsell almost the entire line of Marvel comics today—and quality was equivalently down in the pits. Comics had shed any veneer of respectability; printing comics was like printing money, and the shelves were lined with easy money-grabs like “swimsuit issues,” gimmick covers, and T & A mixed with slaughter.

Into all this stuff and nonsense came Milk and Cheese, cutting like a meat cleaver through yogurt. Evan Dorkin’s sarcastic little characters ran around pointing out how stupid everything was, and then proceeded to tear it apart with chainsaws, baseball bats, and Molotov cocktails. All on a steady diet of gin. They were the punk rock remedy to the empty sheen of disco that had taken over comics.

Milk and Cheese were viscous court jesters. They mocked. Anything and everything, they mocked. People who thought they were cool. No-talent celebrities. People who took Star Trek and Star Wars to seriously. Politics. Artists. Religion. Even their own creator. Or sometimes they just ran down the street yelling “Merv Griffin” and destroying everything in sight. The world was a bunch of balloons, and Milk and Cheese had a pocket full of needles to pop them.

And just like punk rock, the spirit of DIY was embodied by Dorkin and his wife Sarah Dyer, who created and edited the female-creators-only anthology Action Girl. They gave the message over and over—anyone with a pen and some paper could create comics. And if if you didn’t, it was your own lazy-ass fault. Dyer was also active in the “'zine scene” of small, self-published local comics and newsletters, encouraging people to stop being fans and to start being participants in our shared world of comics.

 

The Story of Milk and Cheese

Dorkin has often told the origin of Milk and Cheese. They started out as doodles on cocktail napkins, drawn to entertain Dorkin and his friends. Cheese came first, and then with a little Milk next to it. Dorkin eventually put together a small strip of his dangerous duo that ran in Greed magazine. This was followed by requests from hundred of tiny zines and DIY comics anthologies across the USA, each wanting their own Milk and Cheese strip. Eager to comply, Dorkin wrote and drew up all the strips, but by the time he was finished, he found that most of the zines and anthologies had gone under. Left with a big stack of unpublished strips, Dorkin bundled them up and took them to Slave Labor Graphics where they were compiled and published Milk and Cheese #1 in 1991.

Slave Labor published seven issues of Milk and Cheese until 1997, along with Dorkin’s personal anthology series Dork. In Dork, that the House of Fun was fully unleashed. Packed with Dorkin’s bitter rants on pop culture, odes of love to his gal and partner Sarah Dyer, and general mayhem with no purpose that sprang up every issue, Dork ran for a handful of issues and included strips like The Murder Family and the geek-fest Welcome to Eltingville.

 

Bye-Bye, House of Fun

By the end of the ‘90s, Dorkin and Dyer were no longer wild characters on the fringe, but respected and successful comic makers. Dorkin had won the Eisner award in 1996 for his House of Fun comic The Eltingville Comic-Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Role-Playing Club in Bring Me the Head of Boba Fett that had appeared in Dark Horse’s comedy anthology Instant Piano.

Dorkin and Dyer disappeared from comics into the world of television, becoming script writers for Cartoon Network’s Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast and the WB’s Superman: The Animated Series. Dorkin tried his hand at adapting his own work for animation, but the show Welcome to Eltingville based on Dorkin’s Eisner-winning story never made it past the pilot.

Evan Dorkin has popped up a few times in comics over the years, with some random Milk and Cheese strips. He has even gotten all classy on us in the past few years. What with his fantastical Beasts of Burden painted by Jill Thompson, one could almost forget the sheer insanity and comic gold that can spring out of Dorkin’s mind.

 

The Return of Milk and Cheese

Last year, Dark Horse released Milk & Cheese: Dairy Products Gone Bad collecting almost every Milk and Cheese appearance since their first strip in 1988 all the way up to 2010. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first cracked it open; much of Dorkin’s Milk and Cheese humor was topical, and topical jokes don’t always resonate twenty years later. I was fully prepared to read something along the line of a Mad Magazine collection looking at the “Lighter Side of Hippies.”

But gin-fueled mayhem is apparently timeless. Sure, some of the political situations and fads are long gone, but most of the humor is as biting and raw as when Dorking first wrote it. It was more than a trip through memory lane. After all, although the MTV jokes are stale, making fun of Furries never goes out of fashion.

Milk & Cheese: Dairy Products Gone Bad has all sorts of stuff I have never seen: promotional one-shot gags, convention promos, trading card art.  It’s awesome. Apparently the only stuff they couldn’t stick in here were crossovers with other characters that they didn’t have the rights to.  Because Milk and Cheese are done in little 2-page mini-gags, the book is like popcorn of hate as you just toss one rage-filled treat into your brain one at a time.

I don’t know if this hardcover kick-started anything, but apparently Dorkin is in the mood to unleash Milk and Cheese again.  The last time Milk and Cheese appeared in Dark Horse Presents was 1995.  The last time the Eltingville Club showed up, it was 2002.  And now for at least three issues (and hopefully more) we get the maniacal delights of Dorkin’s head.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect. If you look at some of the columns here on Comics Bulletin, especially Kate Leth’s, that same DIY spirit of Dorkin and Dyer is rising up again. Instead of a pen and paper, you just need computer and some basic software. If Milk and Cheese had been released today, it would probably have been as a webcomic. Dorkin shows you exactly what you can with some simple tools, some drive, and some imagination. And with anthologies like Womanthology being released, Sara Dyer’s ground-breaking with Action Girl seems all the more important. It would be nice to see Action Girl pop up somewhere as well.

But then, Milk and Cheese wouldn’t appreciate me getting so political. A glass of gin. A punch in the face. All you need for Milk and Cheese.

Welcome back, boys!

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