“Read a Damn Book – 147: Milk and Cheese”
Way back in “The Day,” I used to go to comic conventions all the time, and I used to have a “box” at my local comic store, and I had the money (or pretended to) to buy all these great underground books, which I loved (and most of which I have since lost in various moves…) I read weirdo titles, like Boris the Bear, and Flaming Carrot, and Badger, and Graphique Musique, and Reid Fleming – World’s Toughest Milkman, and Yummy Fur, and Midnight - The Rebel Skunk, and Too Much Coffee Man, and Poot, and Yikes, and Tug & Buster---and one of my favorite weirdo books from this golden era was Evan Dorkin’s Milk and Cheese. However, it had been a LONG time since I read the book---since my younger daughter (who is now 21) was still in a stroller---when I recently spotted that a Milk and Cheese collection (published by Dark Horse Books) was available for purchase on the digital service that I use for my nighttime comic reading. I decided to grab it! After not having read an issue of Milk and Cheese in about a decade and a half, how did the adventures of these “Dairy Products Gone Bad” hold up? Let’s find out!
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Evan Dorkin – Milk and Cheese (2011)
This book collects an IMPRESSIVE volume of Milk and Cheese material, from the Milk and Cheese comics series of the late 1980s, which was published by Slave Labor Graphics, up through a 2010 appearance by M & C in an Image book called the Liberty Annual. Most of the comics in this collection are in glorious black and white (which is how every good indie comic SHOULD be produced), but it does include a selection of full color strips, as well.
For those who don’t know anything about Milk and Cheese, the characters, they are a carton of milk and a wedge of cheese, and they HATE. That’s pretty much it. They drink and watch trash t.v.---and they hate! As it says at the top of the credits page, “This book is for Sarah and Emily, and against everyone else.” Most of the strips are between two and four pages long---sometimes longer, sometimes shorter---and they typically start with a banner across the top of page one introducing the “problem” that the characters will be facing in that episode. The formula for a Milk and Cheese comic is this: a topic for consideration is introduced (for example: hippies, or jury duty, or bowling, or street performers); next, Milk and Cheese get angry; and finally, Milk and Cheese go on a rampage and beat the tar out of everyone involved in whatever the topic of the day might be. This sounds like a simple, ridiculous premise for a comic---and it absolutely is.
The comics here are ultra-violent and gore filled, nihilistic, offensive, sometimes gross-out disgusting, and intentionally inappropriate. What redeems this from just being two drunken brutes out for blood is Dorkin’s use of language. Whenever there’s a disgusting, brutal, horrible thing happening, Dorkin subverts the violence with bad puns, odd observations, or meta-textual comments about the strip itself, such as the episode where Milk and Cheese decide that education is failing in America, so they hop on a school bus and ask children pointless trivia questions, and then bash them with baseball bats or throw them out the windows of the bus for not knowing stupid things, like when the first Oreo cookie was sold. Meanwhile, as this type of violence is happening, there are two little Milk and Cheese characters off to the side of the strip, commenting and making jokes. For example, one “side” Milk says, “We’re very hard on the kids in this strip,” and the little Cheese next to him responds, “It’s our ‘Tough Love’” (p. 91-92). The whole thing is absurd, and would be just plain NASTY, if it weren’t clearly played for humor---and having this running commentary, from characters who are both responsible for the violence AND observing it, adds a layer of insult to the injury. It’s extreme satire---although maybe I shouldn’t put it this way---there is an entire episode where Milk and Cheese bash anyone who uses the word, “Extreme!” (p. 198).
Dorkin also does some creative and hilarious fourth-wall violating when he has Milk and Cheese respond to reviews of the comic by various critics, and even the “positive” reviews are savaged by the characters. Despite the critics claiming that the book is a critique of society or consumerism, the characters assure us (the readers) that they are just comic characters doing what they do---and, they claim, nothing deeper is going on. At one point, Milk screams, “Ha Ha Ha You’re all so ridiculous! But thanks for the money!” (p. 65). And that’s what makes this comic so fun (in a “I-really-shouldn’t-be-enjoying-this” sort of way), the layer upon layer of meaning, satire, nonsense, absurdity, and the constant critique of the medium of comics, the readers, and the creators themselves. Milk and Cheese is a combination of bad puns, over-blown cruelty, a worship of trash culture, and then these strange moments, (more common now with characters like Deadpool, but rarely accomplished as cleverly as it is here), when the characters acknowledge that they’re in a comic and talk directly at the “camera” (the reader.) They even occasionally go so far as to beat up Evan Dorkin himself, when he doesn’t show them the proper respect (p. 155 and 237).
One of the funniest premises for a strip is when Milk and Cheese go to what they think is a “FURY” convention, only to find out, when they arrive, that it’s a “FURRY” convention (p. 200-201)! Again, the outcome is always the same, extreme violence, but as the two are pummeling their way through the convention, Cheese says, “I feel weird hitting a cow. Reminds me of Mom.” Milk, whose head barely pokes into the panel, answers, “We’d hit mom.”
Should I laugh at that?
Overall, I was very pleased with my purchase. The collection is huge, over 200 pages of soured dairy brutality, covering about two decades worth of the characters’ antics. The book is funny, disgusting, violent, uses bad words, makes a mockery of nearly every element of society, and (if we’re to believe Milk and Cheese themselves) has no social value whatsoever, beyond being a showcase for Milk and Cheese, icons of drunken violence. The characters are crude, alcohol fueled misanthropes, who make funny quips as they gouge out people’s eyes or burn folks alive. The art, meanwhile, is excellent. It’s mostly in black and white, which I think is perfect, and Dorkin draws in a frantic, exaggerated, cartoony style, with panel layouts that jam a joke or quip or snarky visual gag in every centimeter of the page. Most of the individual stories are quick, only a few pages long, with the inevitable conclusion being dismemberment and destruction for whoever or whatever has angered them at the outset of the strip---but it's FUN! Obviously, this is NOT a book for people who are sensitive to violence, who are easily offended by violations of the P.C. code, or for anyone who didn’t think Johnathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was funny. Like one of Warhol’s early films or a La Mont Young drone composition, what you get with Milk and Cheese is an exploration of a single, sustained concept, and your job, as a reader, is to notice the many, subtle variations that can be found in that single note. OR you might also enjoy this book if you just like crude, violent, drunken, hate-filled buffoonery perpetrated by anthropomorphized rotten groceries. I’m cool with it either way…
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
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