Robot 6

Can you handle C*ckbone?

from Josh Simmons's Cockbone

from Josh Simmons's Cockbone

It was one of the best comics you never read last year. Available only in Robin Bougie’s extreme-smut anthology Sleazy Slice #3 (link is NSFW) or as a minicomic with a wrinkled and grease-stained brown paper bag for a cover and the title hand-scrawled on it in pencil, cartoonist Josh Simmons’s horror opus Cockbone nevertheless came in at #53 on Comic Book Resources’ list of the best comics of 2009. Many critics –Tom Spurgeon, Joe “Jog the Blog” McCulloch, Tucker Stone, yours truly — ranked it even higher. Once read, this story of a simple-minded oaf, the grotesque family that exploits him, and the horrifying fate that awaits them all was simply impossible to shake.

And now — for our sins — Simmons has posted Cockbone online in its entirety. Please note: This is perhaps the most disturbing comic I have ever read, and it’s way, way beyond NOT SAFE FOR WORK. I’m serious — this nightmarish cocktail of sexual violence and depravity will upset you. Badly. But if you think you can take it, you’ll find that it takes the themes and imagery Simmons has been developing in his more accessible horror work — his stories in Mome and Kramers Ergot, his graphic novels House and Jessica Farm — and takes them to a masterful, unforgettable extreme. Just remember: You’ve been warned.

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22 Comments

Sean T. Collins

October 4, 2010 at 1:03 pm

I await responses to this with bated breath.

Stopped reading after the 10th panel. Obviously not my thing.

Uhhhhhhhh….. I’m trying to find the words…. Nevermind.

I’m going to write the names down of everyone who put this on their best of the year list.

Sean T. Collins

October 4, 2010 at 1:23 pm

And we’re off!

for once i am rendered speechless after reading the online version of the thing.

wow. This is clearly in the Bizarro Fiction camp.

Sean T. Collins: Robot 6’s resident internet troll.

But seriously, thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading this when I’m in a more NSFW-friendly environment.

I’ve never written to Robot6 before, even though I read it daily, but I felt compelled to with this feature.

Just exactly what, in ANY OF THIS STORY, did you, or those critics find “masterful” enough about this comic to consider the “best of 2009?”

I’m serious, I want to see what possible justification of artistry, theme, characterization, or value you found in Cockbone.

This strip was depravity for depravity’s sake: from the language, to the characters, to the imagery. I’m not one to get offended by lewd language, sexually explicit imagery, or taboo subject matter. Quite the contrary, actually; I believe that when used correctly, all the aforementioned elements can add depth to any piece of work. I am not even offended by Cockbone. I am merely perplexed as to what in this strip could be considered so groundbreaking and artistically appealing as to be considered for the Best Of list by critics.

The use of vulgar language is trite and poorly constructed in my opinion. The characters hash out colloquial/internet curse words that sound like they’re coming from an angry internet troll: “what’s up faggots,” “fuck you cunts,” “fuckity fuck fuck,” etc. The last example may or may not be in the actual comic, but it just further illustrates my point that the language is used loosely and invariably.

Second, the only thing that could be considered a novel idea about this work and its overall premise (the idea that Cockbone’s penis produces hallucinatory semen that is capable of putting those who ingest it into a trance like state of euphoria) is rendered essentially secondary to the shock value and indulgent use of violence and vulgarity.

In my opinion, it’s a poorly executed story that utilizes taboo tropes with little characterization, build-up of plot, or meaningful themes. What was it that you and the critics saw in it?

I thought it was crap.

It’s like Jim Woodring and Johnny Ryan collaborated on a their own messed up version of the Inferno. I can see why this would be on some best-of lists…it’s original, controversial, and intriguing. I couldn’t stop reading, even though it was completely creeping me out. Thanks for pointing this out.

Just read it myself, and apart from the mother being eaten by dogs and the ambiguous ending, I couldn’t really find anything really memorable about this comic. The only thing that came to mind was, “Shintaro Kago could’ve handled this better”. Indeed, most of Kago’s works are (weirdly) published in porn magazines, but sex is NEVER the focus of his stories. (Which makes me wonder what kind of audience the magazine that publishes his works cater to)

There’s nothing I can add to this that Zakuraba hasn’t already said. It’s violent taboos for the sake of controversy and not much else. I’ve seen far more disturbing imagery elsewhere, which I’m loath to share with anyone with a weak constitiution. This story doesn’t even approach the point of repulsion in me, save that it was so highly recommended among so many highly regarded comic critics.

If we’re aiming to shock our public, we can do better than this. The way the brothers tore each other’s skin up was done much more horrifyingly in the short story, “Laughing Ball” by Hideshi Hino in Comics Underground Japan.

Man, for all that hype… It was really not that disturbing or interesting. I also don’t get the high praise (and none of the links above really explain it).

“this nightmarish cocktail of sexual violence and depravity will upset you. Badly.”

I appreciate the warning, but I found it less disturbing and more unpleasant. Despite its revolting nature, it really didn’t stick with me at all.

Oh well…

— MrJM

Zakuraba: My hunch is that if you can read reviews of the comic by myself, Jog, Tom, and Tucker and still demand to know what we saw in it, nothing I say here’s going to be able to do the trick. For what it’s worth, though–and this goes out to Debt too–familiarity with Simmons’s work indicates that it’s not shock for shock’s sake, not by a long shot. I feel his comics come from a place that’s dark and angry and unsmiling. and that’s what comes through.

Yeah, it was disgusting and offensive but in a post-Mike Diana world, it doesn’t feel like anything you can’t conceive of. BTW, I read it at work. On a work computer. And I’m still alive to tell the tale!

Sean – Your “OMG This is SO SO SO SICK you guise look at this it’s SO SICK you’ll DIE reading it” baiting technique (complete with “CAN YOU HANDLE COCKBONE?” title at the top of the article) kind of undercuts your argument that it’s not shock for shock’s sake and that there really is a substantial piece of artwork underneath the atrocity. You sound like an elementary school student daring his buddy to look at his dad’s copy of HUSTLER. Here come the comments! I can’t wait for you to see how FUCKED UP THIS SHIT IS, MAN!

Yes, I see that most of the praise is for Simmons’ ability to unleash the absolute darkest psychosexual horror we could fathom and to do so in an unrelenting and surprising fashion. If you were to give him credit, it would be for his ability to annihilate our expectations and sensibilities and burrow deep into the stuff nightmares are made of. I agree on this point. But what’s left after the shock wears off? Not much. What is there substantially that relates to some larger, universal aspect of the human condition? Nothing. Does he even attempt characterization? I’d say no. This is just a set of nightmare images designed to fuck with your head. Fuck with your head it does but this is the problem I have with all transgressive fiction, be it COCKBONE or Bret Easton Ellis or that collection of “OMG, I’M SO MUCH SICKER THAN YOU KNOW” short fiction Chuck Palahniuk put out… it just reminds me of that episode of SOUTH PARK where the boys write THE TALE OF SCROTIE MCBOOGERBALLS. If it only exists to see who can go the furthest on the gross-out meter, then OK but people won’t have much use for it beyond that.

I guess one might create an argument that the horror in this comic is some sort of symbolic representation of something personal to the author? Maybe? I can only comment on what it does for me, which is not very much at all.

D.–All I can say in terms of how I presented the story is a) your shock-jock/little-kid characterization of me is really not me at all, I promise–although I admit I thought the conversation about the strip would be fun, and b) I was legitimately concerned that people knew what they were getting into. I felt as though the incest and animal cruelty in particular could really upset people, and didn’t want anyone stumbling into that. (Animal cruelty is a real sore spot for me.)

“If you were to give him credit, it would be for his ability to annihilate our expectations and sensibilities and burrow deep into the stuff nightmares are made of. I agree on this point. But what’s left after the shock wears off? Not much. What is there substantially that relates to some larger, universal aspect of the human condition? Nothing.”

I think that if you rearrange those sentences slightly, you get what I get out of this strip, and a lot of his other work: “The human condition is the stuff nightmares are made of” is precisely his point.

It’s funny: I first read this yesterday and was like “wow, that’s pretty whack”, really enjoyed it, but it didn’t really rub off on me.

Then later that night I started thinking about it, really taking it in, and couldn’t get to sleep.

I think people are missing that the exploitation is part of the point-the reader’s emotions are exploited to the same degree that Cockbone’s body is. They way I read it, the violence and horror is a way of contextualizing the magnitude of the betrayal that Cockbone is put through by his family.

That’s just my interpretation, though. I’ve been looking to read this for a while and I’m really glad this was posted online yesterday, I think. Thanks for sharing this with everyone else, Sean(I found it first through a tumblr I follow).

Also, if anyone thinks the experience would be enhanced with a soundtrack, here’s a good song to listen to while reading:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSOPBqzVZZw

Or, alternatively/in conjunction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5aShgNckF4

Sean – I do understand what you’re saying and I do appreciate the reasons you and many others gave for ranking it one of the best comics of 2009. Sorry if I came off excessively snarky or negative, I just feel this comic lacks depth but that may well be short-sightedness on my part. Surely everyone can agree this comic works as existential shock horror… if there’s an art to existential shock horror, and it’s debatable if there is, COCKBONE is a masterpiece.

On the topic of surrealist horror, I think subtlety goes a long way. Nothing about COCKBONE was quiet. Suggesting, rather than stating, the kind of eerie, creeping psychological illness that true horror is built upon works better for me. LIKE A VELVET GLOVE CAST IN IRON, for example, stayed with me for days, just kind of lingering on the edge of my subconscious. I might have criticized it the first time I read it for reminding me too much of a David Lynch movie but that type of Lynchian surrealism, the fugue dream-state as basis for psychological terror, requires a really deft touch and Clowes pulls it off very well. I felt like COCKBONE smacked me in the face a bit too roughly. Maybe that’s my own lack of understanding for not picking up subtext and I could have a different interpretation if I came back to it later but that’s just how I see it now.

“Nothing about COCKBONE was quiet.”

I dunno, I thought the overnight scene in the stilt shack with Cockbone and his mother was quiet, and therefore disturbing. And the way the story ends, or rather just stops, after all the explicit nastiness before, nastiness that has trained us, really, to expect more, more, more… I say, the way the story stops, after a bunch of word balloons implying horrific off-panel nastiness… well, masterful manipulation in any case.

I’m not sure I’d want to read a steady diet of this kind of sublime nastiness (I don’t have the brass for it, I don’t think), but I credit the piece with creating a world.

Cripes, why did I read this right before bedtime?

I don’t think it’s that bad, actually. I thought “Night of the Jibblers” was a lot more disturbing . Josh Simmons is great.

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