Over the weekend at the APRIL Book Expo, The Seattle Review of Books table was directly next to Yeti Press, the small comics publisher run by Fantagraphics employee RJ Casey in his free time. (Yes, Casey runs a comic book company when he’s not busy working at a day job for a comic book company. I suspect he also runs a smaller comic book company when he’s looking to unwind from his other two comic book companies.) In between visitors, I asked Casey what Yeti’s newest comic was, and he handed me a small comic titled beds! Beds! BEDS!.
Written by Casey himself and drawn by Seattle cartoonist Ben Horak, beds! Beds! BEDS! begins with a generic American family pulling up to a mattress store in a strip mall. Their minivan screeches to a halt — the eyes bug out of the mom’s, dad’s and baby’s heads from the inertia of the sudden stop — and then the mom and dad make eyes at each other.
“You know what, honey…I just love you with all my heart,” the father says to the mother. And then they make out, and it’s a truly unsettling panel. Horak draws every single line in their entwined tongues and every single particle up their noses, as a leering, big-eyed baby looks on. Horak is clearly playing up the grotesquerie here, going for a kind of JR Williams-meets-Ed “Big Daddy” Roth kind of feel. Everything is cartoonish, but also heavily detailed, with every wrinkle and sag and flaw accentuated for utmost impact.
beds! Beds! BEDS! is a very short comic about the horrors of commerce — the creepiness of salespeople and the discomforting entitled self-satisfaction of the American family. It’s a straight-up caricature of a scene that plays out across the country every day (a family buys a bed for a kid who has outgrown a crib) but with all the throbbing veins and emotional neediness and other gory details amped all the way up. Bed shopping has never been so alarming, or so craven, or so hideous.
This is the sort of thing that comics published by Casey’s Yeti Press do best: using experimental and energetic comics, they focus on one single thing — a sandwich, say, or a ballpark mascot — using comics that simultaneously draw you in and repulse you. If Mad Magazine were still relevant today, they’d likely be publishing comics like beds! Beds! BEDS!, rather than the same old tired movie parodies that have become their stock in trade. Yeti Press’s books may not appeal to everyone, but they fill a necessary function in the comics world: they’re the punky, adventurous outsiders who aren’t afraid to make the uncommercial decision, much to the delight of a small-but-avid audience of cartooning aficionados.