Providence, Rhode Island-based multi-hyphenate Brian Chippendale is best known as the masked drummer and howling vocalist of noise-rock duo Lightning Bolt. He’s also a RISD dropout, cartoonist, and artist. His latest graphic novel, Puke Force, published by Drawn & Quarterly, is a hilarious and aptly titled social satire: It reads like the artist swallowed the internet whole — belly fat ads, trollish forum comments, social media narcissism, and all — got sick, and puked it up on the page.
Serialized from 2009 to 2015, Chippendale’s pen-and-ink drawings are as rabid and neurotic and complex as his drumming. Like the culture of total noise it skewers, Puke Force leaves the reader with little room to breathe.
There is a story here, though it’s hard to follow (even if you obey the author’s instructions to read the comic panels in a “snakelike fashion,” first left to right, then right to left). Set in the capitalist dystopia of Grave City, suicide bombers affiliated with the Tea Party attack coffee shops, and we witness the final conversations of various patrons before the blasts. King Troll and his Plague Bots set out to destroy the city with their “big ol’ ball of online hate.” Along the way, talking M&Ms, telepathic turnips, and self-righteous yogis navigate a land where the water is “totally poison,” a “body of toxic mystery.”
As in his previous graphic novels, Maggots, In n Oof, and Ninja, Chippendale updates the style of fellow punk cartoonist Gary Panter for the 21st century. Among the black bile of his ink drawings, handwritten text satirizes the social media hive mind (a crowd of gremlins all yelling “#YOLO”) and echoes Weird Twitter (“I’m applying to get back into my mother’s womb, could anyone here write me a recommendation,” AhaFan88 comments on a forum).
These insanely detailed illustrations of an all-too-familiar dystopia take on the most insidious aspects of contemporary society, from corporate greed to casual bigotry and the culture of violence. It all makes Puke Force a delightfully nauseating read.