Cyanide & Happiness
Wow, did I underestimate the power of the Internet! Back in July, I reported that Dave McElfatrick, one-fourth of the creative team behind the webcomic Cyanide & Happiness, was having trouble getting a visa to come to the United States from his native Ireland to collaborate with the rest of the creators. McElfatrick had applied for an O-1 visa, which is reserved for “aliens of extraordinary ability” in their fields. Apparently he didn’t cut the mustard, as he was turned down. So he started an Internet petition to convince immigration officials that he really does have a following.
I scoffed, but perhaps I shouldn’t have. After all, if your chosen field is making comics on the Internet, it makes sense to demonstrate you’re at the top of it by getting a lot of Internet users to vouch for you, even if they do have nonstandard names — and 4,000 pages of signatures is a lot of users. Or maybe Dave’s visa request crossed the desk of someone who actually reads the comic. Either way, he’s in, and we can only assume the madness will now increase.
Back in 2007 there was the great Wikipedia webcomics purge. Now there’s this: Dave McElfatrick, one of the four creators of Cyanide & Happiness, has been denied an O-1 visa into the U.S. McElfatrick, who lives in Ireland, wants to cross the pond and work with his collaborators in person, so a regular tourist visa won’t do. The O-1 visa is reserved for “aliens of extraordinary ability” in their fields, but apparently 374,325 hits a day isn’t extraordinary enough. (Who makes these decisions, anyway? The LOLCats?) Naturally, Dave isn’t taking this sitting down; he has started an internet petition to demonstrate to the folks at Immigration that he has a worldwide following. With upstanding folks like Harry Pothead, Juan Valdez, and Zakorath, The Soulless One advocating for Dave, it’s hard to imagine that the folks at the State Department won’t see the light… right?
I’m not going to mince words, the comedy that fuels Cyanide & Happiness is not for everyone. The webcomic which launched in 2004, is effectively characterized in the opening paragraph of Brigid Alverson’s recent Unbound review: “The Cyanide & Happiness formula is pretty simple: Stick men (and women) do shocking things to one another. There are four different artists, but the style and humor are fairly uniform; a situation is set up in the first panel and resolved, by stabbing, boob-grabbing, or shouting ‘You have cancer! LOL!’ in the last. My kids love this comic, because it’s what teenagers are all about: Working your way through every possible taboo, in public. So in C&H we have Seizure-Man falling down and frothing at the mouth, bungee-jumping childbirth, and lots and lots of stabbing.”
If that description gives you pause, I would advise you skip this interview. But if it doesn’t give you pause, jump on ahead. Last month, It Books released a collection that “highlights 150 of the best comics, including 30 brand-new strips, each packed with inappropriate jokes, irreverent characters, and deviant behavior, guaranteed to leave you laughing despite the gnawing guilt.” The strips are created by four different writers/illustrators who “live all over the world — Kris Wilson in Fort Bridger, Wyoming; Matt Melvin in San Diego, California; Rob DenBleyker in Dallas, Texas; and Dave McElfatrick in Belfast, Northern Ireland”. I was able to interview Dave, Kris and Matt via email. Before jumping in, though, I have to apologize to our female readership and the creators for my ignorant assumption (in one question) that the audience for this work was predominantly male.
Tim O’Shea: How do you develop a sense for when the shock value of the joke outweighs or obscures the comedy of the strip?
Dave: You don’t, really. You just kinda go with what you think is funny, and if that involves either something shocking or something incredibly tame, you go for it. We don’t focus on shock value, we just go with what makes us laugh.
Kris: The humor has to come first. It’s not as if we’re trying to offend people. More often than not, people just get offended at what’s funny.