Should You Be Laughing at This?
By Hugleikur Dagsson
Harper Collins, 192 pp., $14.95
Works with rhetorical questions for titles too often invite the critical abuse they inspire: "Why Can't This Be Love?" Van Halen coyly ask in a song that just about justifies domestic violence, if not actual homicide; at the end of the day, only candidates for electroshock might conceivably care where Car 54 and its inhabitants are. But fans of Icelandic artist/playwright Hugleikur Dagsson's blackhearted, delightfully evil little drawings needn't fret about the title of his new book, Should You Be Laughing at This?a sort of "best of" compendium of several earlier, very successful volumes published in his homeland. Eschewing the Boiled Angel pose of art-as-therapy, Dagsson crafts painfully honest, squirm-inducing vignettes of the comic horrors of everyday life, in which his squiggly characters blandly voice their confusion ("Wait a minute . . . This isn't tennis! This is anal sex!"), body terror (see above), and comprehensive self-loathing (a Christmas scene plays out under a thought balloon that reads: "A sweater. Why do you hate me?"). With the X-rated eloquence of a Dennis Cooper novella and the sly drollery of Max Cannon's Red Meat cartoons, Dagsson's visceral whimsy answers his own deadpan query with an emphatic "Já!"