The first time I laid eyes upon the troubled cast of Royston Vasey’s The League Of Gentlemen I almost vomited. Such grotesque, pantomime-scarred characters, which could turn the stomach with a flutter of the eyelash, stirred the strings of disturbance with all and sundry. A BAFTA Award (2000 for Production) confirmed that comedy had found a new avenue, and that it was okay to satirise all that was politically incorrect. So when a copy of Angus Oblong’s Creepy Susie and 13 Other Tragic Tales For Troubled Children landed on the doorstep the odds were tipped in its favour. Dysfunctionalism rocks!
P.T. Barnum was a rock god! He was an opportunist. He was an entrepreneurial voyeurist. And by trailing his Carnival freaks across the backbone of mid-America circa late-1800s, this Vaudevillian parasite put the fun back into fantasy, the sacred and profane.
We’ve had a host of wannabes since then; Jim Rose’s Circus Sideshow is possibly the heir apparent, and in TV terms Todd Browning’s unfortunate band of merry Freaks, and then suddenly, whoosh, out of the fictional toxic backwaters of Sacramento comes a new satirist of the grotesque with a posse who are anything but Ivy League.
Meet Angus Oblong; 27-year-old modern day Frankenstein with a deformity fixation and sperm donor to the craziest family of contemporary abominations outside of the Test Tube. His (first major book deal) Creepy Susie and 13 Other Tragic Tales For Troubled Children salutes them for their warts-and-all-mutation-of-toxic-genetics-meets-psychotic-hearted compassion. There’s grotesque mutant babies, midget albino crossdressers, siamese quadruplets, narcoleptic dogs, stupid vampires and fun, fun, fun doses of electroshock therapy galore!
The fun figures that inhabit Creepy Susie’s landscape enjoy the benefits of a contaminated environment and lifestyle. This is no Sorority House picnic peppered with sunny Californian hormones and bleached silicon smiles. The inhabitants of this bleak, black-and-white cul-de-sac have flaws galore. Emily Amputee is a prime example: “Emily went to her doctor for her annual checkup. Some paperwork got mixed up and they amputated one of her legs.” Or if you favour a tale on the homicidal side there’s always Mary Had A Little Chainsaw. One of my personal favourites, Jenny, Jenny Jenny & Babette the Siamese Quadruplets puts a new spin on the impetuousness of droll humour.
Peer group pressure (aka The Debbies), Sibling Rivalry and Happy, Happy, Happy Sammy examines universes populated by hormones, pathological urges and by childhood optimism that has to be stamped out at all costs. It’s one big, happy, alienated family in Oblong Town.
This is a marriage between Edgar Allan Poe and David Lynch. A tango through the bizarre. And to think that Oblong spent a slab of his youth languishing away behind the grinding machine at the Royal Ground Coffee Shop at Polk and Vallejo while pumping out underground comics on the side. His personal bio states that he then “ended up in California after five years of living on the streets and taking it in the butt by ugly old men for heroin money”. A stint as a clown for a fast-food restaurant quickly alerted him to his true calling.
Oblong is a mysterious creature whose art screams “This is Vaudeville”. He idolises his cartoon children and just as his book showcased the talents of Cross-Dressing Charles, Janet’s Butt and Carl & the Crippled Black Kid with an Eye Patch, his sitcom debut, The Oblongs, continues the theme by choosing to both empathise and poke fun at the “physically challenged” (or if you prefer, mutant children). As Oblong confessed to the Sacramento Bee’s David Barton, “I always had a fascination with deformities. The Oblongs was a show about the kids, it was based around Milo’s clubhouse and all the ugly deformed kids who can’t otherwise get friends.”
This book is original. It’s horrifying. It’s morbid. It’s Halloween for 365 days a year. In a world where animation is gradually eating into the psyche of public consumption and where cartoon-strip-style graffiti is hot, Oblong has carved a beautiful niche. So what if he fantasised that his father “were a sword swallower and mother a prostitute”. And so what if his humour is gallows all the way. It’s time to stop being prejudiced about first impressions folks; it’s time to let the freaks in, to celebrate them and their own unique Olongesque charm.
If you are looking for criticism then you won’t find any here. I’ve tried. God knows. I hang my head in shame at the thought that humour can be so sacrilegious. Look – if American giant NBC can swallow Oblong’s appeal (and secure his creative vision for cable) – then so can we. Okay, so home may be the local toxic waste dump but let’s be fair, these kids are partially human after all, and as such, deserve our support…
A mock children’s book called Mommy Is Going To Die is apparently in the test tube. It’s possible that that small and assorted clubhouse of human oddities will be raising its semi-amputated arms with empathy and joy at the mention of more siblings … Freaks rule!