In pop culture, as in life, nothing super funny tends to last. Comedy film sequels tend to be an exercise in diminishing returns. Repeated a joke a few times—it’s funny until it’s not. (In rare cases, it gets back to funny again with even more repetition, but leave that to the pros.) Lots of stand-up comics set fire to a year’s worth or more of material when the do a Netflix comedy special—once the act is seen far and wide, it’s not something they can perform again.
Comic books would seem to follow the same rule: a jokey comic book premise, even a great one, can only be sustained for so long before it loses some of its freshness. (All right, maybe Deadpool is an exception to this rule, but everybody knows Deadpool doesn’t play fair with rules.)
A comic I started reading two years ago, Curse Words, published Image Comics, has somehow managed to beat the odds and stay weird, funny, and satisfyingly energetic through 20 issues and three seasonal specials. The story of a wizard named Wizord who has escaped a brutal alternate realm called The Hole World and found fame on Earth starts off loopy and large-scale (one of his first acts here is to shrink down an entire baseball stadium full of people). And then Curse Words doubles down on its weirdness by introducing an array of assassins (including Wizord’s ex-lover Ruby Stitch) sent by a faceless demon guy named Sizzajee.
The writing by Charles Soule is wacky and hilarious, but there’s room enough here for a tender family triangle with Wizord, Ruby, and Wizord’s koala bear/shapeshifting companion Margaret that has evolved beautifully over the run of the comic.
But it’s Ryan Browne’s art—full of ridiculously detailed bodies, literal sound effects spelled out to hilarious effect, and some of the most over-the-top splash pages you’ll see in any comic—that really transform it into a comedic tour-de-force.
Curse Words is funnier than you might expect it to be, more magical and its title would suggest and a visual treat throughout. It may be the funniest comic on stands today. Here are a few others, if you like this style of humor:
God Hates Astronauts, by Ryan Browne
Even more bonkers than Curse Words is Browne’s last project, a three-arc war saga involving farmers, a human-hippo hybrid named Sir Hippothesis, a group of ineffective superheroes, and a character named King Tiger Eating a Cheeseburger. Absurd doesn’t even begin to cover the plotting shenanigans that Browne gets into over the 15 issues of this series, which isn’t nearly as straightforward as Curse Words. The panels are rendered so gorgeously that you forget you’re reading one of the dumbest (dumbest-smartest?) stories ever committed to graphic novel form.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
Count me as one of fans who can’t wait for Squirrel Girl to get her own movie, or at least a good guest shot in one of the upcoming entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As told in rebooted form by writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson (the creative team behind her first series since the character debuted in 1991), it’s been four years of great jokes, off-kilter encounters with some of Marvel’s biggest heroes and villains, and lots and lots of marginalia jokes, not to mention goofy conversations with squirrels. Doreen Green is tough and funny and silly and perhaps my favorite character in all of comics. I’m jealous of anyone who gets to fall in love with her for the first time.
Sex Criminals, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Even if you like your humor a little more, um, adult, you may find yourself blushing from the sheer number and endlessly creative ways writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky find to make fresh jokes out of tired tropes involving human anatomy, pornography, and the clumsy fumbling of modern coupling. (How silly is this comic? A spinoff advice book was called “Just the Tips.”) It started as a silly romp about a couple that can stop time when they have sex, but somewhere along the way toward what is expected to be the last arc of the comic later this year, though, it also became deeper, more emotional—a true exploration of relationships, sexual need, and loneliness. With, and I can stress this enough, lots and lots of penis jokes.
Kaptara, by Chip Zdarsky
Sex Criminals helped make Zdarsky a popular talent in comics and he’s gone on to write Howard the Duck and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, among others. But one of my favorite, lesser-known works of his is Kaptara, a strangely down-to-Earth space adventure about a very regular guy caught up in comically extreme fantasy circumstances on a distant planet. Highlights include a band of aggressively rude, Smurf-like men’s rights activists and an oft-nude wizard who’s like Gandalf on a bender. Sadly, it’s unclear if Kaptara will return anytime soon—it only stuck around for five very funny issues.
I Hate Fairyland, by Scottie Young
Walk into any comic-book store and you’re likely to see tons of variant covers with artwork by Scottie Young, who specializes in adorable and extremely weird and violent images. Young’s own Image Comics title, which just concluded after 20 issues, follows Gertrude, a young girl who finds herself in a candy-colored dreamland and quickly learns to hate the fluff out of it. With her flying-bug guide Larrigon Wentsworth III, Gertrude grows up to cause all kinds of bloody havoc across the kingdom and engage in epic boss battles with evil queens, demons, and armies of goofy villains. If you were ever a fan of The Ren & Stimpy Show, this might be your jam.
What’s your favorite funny comic?