maandag 13 oktober 2014

Baffling genuis in a gag comic: De Psy

Here's a comic strip I wanted to share with you. I found it in an old Robbedoes collection. And I absolutely love it. Unfortunately it is in this crazy made-up language we in the Netherlands insist on speaking, but the art is pretty expressive, so you should be able to follow most of it, and I'll translate the dialogue were it's really necessary (And besides, if you're reading this you're probably a close personal friend of mine)


Translation and analysis after the jump!

The story starts with a man visiting a psychiatrist:
Psy: Something about your story bothers me. Start again from the beginning.
Man: Again?
Psy: Yes please.
Man: As you wish. Well, like every year, I put my shoes in front of the fireplace at christmas eve...

He tells the story of how he did this every year, and how he was so very happy to get presents every year. Then one day there were no presents, and his dad told him "Santa Clause... is us!". As a result the man ends up in a depression for a while.
Later, after his parents have died, he gets son of his own, and like him the son is very happy with all the gifts he gets at Christmas, year in, year out. But then one day there are no presents, and he tells his son there is something he needs to know:  "Santa Clause... is your grandparents!"

Psy: And did he understand?
Man: No. I must have made a mistake in my explanation.
Psy: Mmh... but what?
Man: That's what I'm asking you!
Psy: Something about your story bothers me. Start again from the beginning.

And so the story keeps looping.

So why did I want to share this with you?

There are many kinds of great comic book moments. Some are fist-pumpingly awesome, others are gut-wrenchingly emotional. They can be hilarious, frightening, infuriating or gratifying. But among all the emotions great scenes can evoke, there is one you rarely get: bafflement. And that is what De Psy gives us here. Where did the presents come from? Ghost-grandparents? Delusions of the guy telling the story? But what's even more baffling: why on earth doesn't the Psy get the problem with the tale? It seems like there is something fundamentally wrong with the plot here. It reminds me of one the stories about the Baron von Münchhausen. The baron falls in a hole, spends the whole story trying to get out and screaming for help, only to realize no help is coming. Then he goes home to get a ladder. Delightfully anticlimactic anti-humor.

But the Psy story gives us more. The Von Münchhausen story is clearly meant to be funny. But this comic leaves me confused even to how I'm supposed to feel about it. Is this a sweet Christmassy story, or terrifying ghost story? Should I laugh, feel spooked or get a warm feeling in my heart? De Psy is usually a gag comic. One page, or even just a few panels, ending on a punchline. But here it continues beyond the punch line. It doesn't even end, it just loops back to the beginning. It robs you of a climax, leaving you wondering when you are supposed to laugh, and perhaps if you should laugh at all.

It's a silly gag comic. It's a stupid shaggy dog story. It's a dadaist masterpiece. Whatever the case is, I think it's great, and deserves to be shared.

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