Dark Horse Comics, 238 pages, hardcover, $19.99
There’s a part of you, deep down, that just wants to get drunk and break things.
Mostly, we don’t — can’t or wouldn’t — but it remains an universal fantasy.
In 1987, Evan Dorkin made a doodle on a napkin, and it somehow came to embody our desire for glorious, pointless destruction. Milk and Cheese smashed their way into our hearts in Greed #6, and then appeared in their own title in 1991. Last year’s already-out-of-print hardcover collected “every Milk and Cheese strip published from 1989 to 2010 (except for crossovers and cameos, which don’t count).”
For the most part, the stories are an endless cycle of misanthropic anthropomorphic dairy products drinking to excess, becoming enraged at some annoyance, injustice, or absurdity (as often as not, hinging on their misreading of American pop culture), followed by a couple pages of senseless mayhem and bad puns. Over the course of 200 and some pages, the duo attack the mailman, vivisectionists, hippies, street performers, police, trick-or-treaters, stand-up comics, no-talent celebrities, old people, and Evan Dorkin. They wreck shopping malls, bowling alleys, movie theaters, Comic-Cons, flea markets, Renaissance fairs, and seemingly burn down New York City. (“Fire! The Biblical Cleanser!”) On the whole, the strip is predictable, juvenile, and, frankly, often stupid — but it’s also quite a lot of fun. Somehow the gag never gets old.
At first glance, the art seems both cluttered and lazy, like the jumbled together sketches that accumulate on the cover of a stoned teenager’s spiral notebook. Flip through the pages and one sees Milk and Cheese, with their bold black eyebrows and their giant shouting mouths, in frame after frame, running, fighting, smashing, yelling. They are surrounded by clouds of words, and screaming victims, and flying debris, and vomit. The visual cacophony is deliberate, and the pacing that results is usually full throttle. But force yourself to slow down and focus: Dorkin’s technical skill is unmistakable. The characters, these ridiculous talking dairy products, are iconic; their faces, almost unbelievably expressive. Nearly every page is a maelstrom of intensity, but any given panel would work well as a stand-alone composition.
One is tempted to try to justify Milk and Cheese and its full destructive insanity — to cast it as a kind of protest against the tedium of daily life, or as a parody of violence in entertainment. Maybe it is, but this sort of chaos does not need and cannot endure such justification. “Listen up, people,” Milk rants, “Milk and Cheese is just another goddamned comic book. We’re not an absurdist take on violence. We’re not a focus for social commentary. We’re not a condemnation of American ignorance and consumerism. We’re Milk and Cheese!”
The pleasure of Milk and Cheese is the pleasure of being, momentarily at least, morally irresponsible, free from conscience and consequence.
Nothing resembles innocence so much as unabashed nihilism.
Kristian Williams is the author of Hurt: Notes on Torture in a Modern Democracy (Microcosm Publishing, 2012), Confrontations (AK Press, 2008), Our Enemies in Blue (South End Press, 2007), and American Methods: Torture and the Logic of Domination (South End Press, 2006).