With artwork resembling some unholy mix of Tom Gauld and early Dilbert comics it seems that Jonathan Kunz and Elizabeth Pich, a pair of German cartoonists, desperately want to ruin your day. Or put a smile on your face. Or possibly both, and at the same time. It’s hard to get a real handle on what the heck is going on in War and Peas: Funny Comics for Dirty Lovers, the first printed paper collection of their popular online comic that’s a little bit sugar and spice.
The press materials for War and Peas suggest the boxy comic follows some type of continuous story, but there’s no real evidence of that in this collection, minus an odd roster of characters like Gary the Stone (née Gary the Ghost), Sentient Robot, Bob and Bob (the gay couple) and, of course, cover stars Death and Slutty Witch. Perhaps some overarching storyline or plot is at work here, flexing some unseen narrative, but I sincerely doubt it. Besides, the last thing you’d want in a comic that relies heavily on sarcasm and non-sequiturs is a story to keep up with.
So what it’s about, then? Honestly, I’m not sure it’s really “about” anything, other than trying to make you laugh, think, or even recoil in disgust. As a webcomic unburdened by the repressive chains of newspaper syndication both Kunz and Elizabeth Pich alternate between writing and drawing these funnies, channeling what and whatever they find amusing or worth taking down a peg. Clearly, there’s no shortage of inspiration for either.
Only there doesn’t seem to be any specific direction or focus in their creative madness, the results being so willy-nilly and erratic that you almost feel ashamed for laughing at Death taking a beach holiday (wearing a bikini top) when another comic asks you to consider the awkwardness of dating vampires when you’re a menstruating slutty witch.
The best examples of this dynamic include genuinely funny bits like a waiter called over by (what we assume is) an irritated diner complaining about a fly in his soup, only to have it revealed the (assumed angry) diner is actually a fly and, naturally, gives his compliments to the chef. Or when Death mixes up his “death list” and accidentally collects the wrong soul before realizing he’s misread the name. The wrongly deceased, hoping to make the best of his temporary temporal situation, asks Death if he can go haunt his ex for a few minutes.
Or like the valiant knight, rescuing the damsel in distress from the tower where her captors are (cruelly) forcing her to learn calculus. Once freed, they two attempt to escape but are thwarted by a dragon who challenges them with a complicated equation.
The worst examples feel…empty, like simply uttering some unexpected vulgarities or inserting some crude sexualized reference in the final panel is enough to upend the expectations setup in previous ones. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with crude sexual references, but having so many of these setups revolve around a sexually “liberated” slutty witch talking openly about her sexual history and getting drunk gets tiresome quickly. If you’re the type that (somehow) still finds a comic like Chelsea Handler hilarious, you might disagree with me. You’d be wrong, but nobody is perfect.
We see this style of humor so often on animated cable shows that we’ve largely become numb to its ability to shock us anymore, if only because everyone else is trying to shock us too. The reason for this glut is because these shows are cheap to produce and require very little (if any) real talent to create, most relying on stealthily copy-pasting jokes and scenarios that were stale long before third-rate writers discovered them.
Maybe that’s why so much of Death and Peas feels cannibalized from other, funnier comics (and other media) that one can’t help but feel you’re only laughing at jokes because you’ve seen them before. The comic so often feels exactly what it is, like a project alternating between two very different people who, superficially, may be traveling on the same path but, ultimately, have very different destinations.
The best comics reach for the stars while striving to shine a little light on the larger picture of human existence. Others, like Death and Peas, aim for the zeitgeist. There’s nothing wrong with settling for low-hanging fruit, especially given how subjective humor can be. And let’s be honest, newspaper comics (those that still exist, anyway) have been diminished by outdated standards of bygone eras that it’s hard to get mad at any comic trying to rock the comedy casbah.
It should go without saying that you can just as easily read the funnies collected here online totally gratis…but that would require visiting Instagram and all its narcissistic horrors. Don’t do that. The paper stock is premium and the printing quality is especially high, meaning there’s no dithered colors and newsprint-style blurriness throughout its 160 pages.
That said, Death and Peas won’t be for everyone, and nor should it. I really don’t think it’s for me, either. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t occasionally deliver a genuinely funny or surprisingly poignant slice of irreverence that gets you thinking, like a magnificent spider standing atop a magnificent bear standing atop a magnificent mountain, proudly proclaiming it is, indeed, the shit.