Review: Arcade of Cruelty

If you’ve heard of Joseph P. Larkin, it may be due to his response to Kevin Church’s review of his book. Or maybe because he gave his own book 5 stars on Amazon.

You either will find these things funny or you won’t. Much like Arcade of Cruelty itself.

One part art book and one part comics collection, Arcade of Cruelty‘s conceit is that this is a retrospective of Larkin’s life work. It’s unabashedly inclusive, beginning with early yearbook photos (defaced with vulgarities supposedly by Larkin’s friend “David”) and covers everything from adolescent drawings to college projects. Larkin doesn’t seem afraid to show his failures or things he admits don’t quite work.

He also doesn’t seem to be afraid to offend, including pages from his “beat-off binders” (all accompanied with the caption “This is deeply disturbing”) as well as some comics that make rape jokes (which worked for me as more of commentary than out-right “jokes”) and an extended selection of comics focusing on Sept. 11, 2001.

I think it’s that last section that’s a sticking point for a lot of people as Larkin mocks others’ reactions to 9/11 as well as some other comic book artists in the process. I thought his strip calling out Jeffrey Brown’s self-centeredness worked well (as do his other strips skewering Brown elsewhere in the book), as did the James Kochalka one (which was a little more kind-hearted).

I personally don’t think there’s any one “right” response to tragedy so I see nothing wrong with this section. But like I said, you’ll either find it funny or you won’t.

Arcade of Cruelty wants you to think Larkin is a misogynist asshole. And he really tries to maintain that image in his comments. But his ability to poke fun at himself (and as well as the culture of masculinity) belies him to be otherwise. No, this isn’t for everyone, but Larkin has a fun, mischievous voice. I’m interested in what he does next.

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