I’ve always thought that the way comics work, it’s hard to execute a proper laugh-out-loud joke. The timing seems too difficult. As a medium, comics is unusual in that it’s very easy to read forwards and backwards from your current position, even peripherally, and that means you can potentially comprehend a punchline before you’ve even read the joke. It takes a special level of skill for a writer and artist to execute a joke as powerfully as any stand-up routine or sitcom, and when you combine that with the need to get all that right AND intersect with the reader’s sense of humour, the odds of getting genuine laughter drop even further.
Either way, there are a lot of comics with jokes that have made me smirk. Plenty that have elicited a small, internal chuckle. Loads that I’ve quoted or repeated because they were funny. But right now, only one springs which actually made me laugh, and that’s S.W.O.R.D. #4
Written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Stephen Sanders, S.W.O.R.D. was, as Gillen himself described it, “His Girl Friday, in space” – a sci-fi relationship comedy. Ostensibly, it span out of Warren Ellis’ Astonishing X-Men run and starred Beast and his girlfriend Agent Brand, a superhero comic disguised as as indie comic disguised as a superhero comic. It even co-starred Death’s Head, if you’re into that. Unfortunately, despite being one of the best Marvel comics of this/last year, it was only read by about 6 people. I don’t have full access to the economics, but I suspect it needed at least double that to survive.
The reason I remember that this comic, specifically, made me laugh is because of where I was when it happened. I was on the tube back home, after buying the week’s comics. Hunched up in the corner, working my way through my pile and trying not to draw too many puzzling stares (which, as a 27-year-old reading comics on the train, is never easy) and then I go to the joke. And I laughed. Out loud. On the train. My cover was well and truly blown, and an entire carriage of people got the confirmation they needed that the reason I was reading comics on public transport was because I was, as they had suspected, mentally subnormal, because only someone mentally subnormal would be comfortable laughing that loud, to no-one but themselves, while on public transport. But I don’t care. In life, I’ll take a laugh over anything else (which, genuinely, has been a problem at funerals in the past).
I don’t want to spoil the joke itself, but suffice to say, in writing terms it was like watching Chekov’s gun being fired, only to discover that instead of a bullet, there was a little flag inside with the word “bang” on. And “bang” was deliberately mispelled. Not only did I not see the punchline coming, I didn’t even realise I was reading the lead-in until it was too late. The line, for those of you that know or have the issue, was “Stop everyone! We’ve made enormous mistake!”. The rest of you, do yourselves a favour and buy the collection. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read in years, and I mean that in the best possible way.