101 Outer Space Jokes

By | Wednesday, May 17, 2023 Leave a Comment
Thanks to Nix Comics, I recently came across 101 Outer Space Jokes by Will Eisner from 1979. I found its very existence fascinating because Eisner is known, of course, for The Spirit, a number of his seminal graphic novels, and more than a couple guidebooks that remain outstanding examples of how to teach comics (as opposed to comics style illustration). However, Eisner did a variety of other things throughout his life, and not all of them were as noteworthy. He was often a practical man, and would sometimes do jobs because, simply put, it helped pay the rent.

The jokes in 101 Outer Space Jokes are, I suspect, largely not his. There's an obvious "assisted by" credit right on the cover highlighting Keith Diaczun and Wade Hampton, whose only other credits I can find is similarly styled joke book called Dating and Hanging Out that came out at the same time. While many of Eisner's solo work is clever and witty, they're generally not jokes per se. I suspect the pages that are drawn gags are Eisner's while the pages of prose that merely have one of Eisner's spot illustrations were from Diaczun and Hampton. I don't really have anything to back that up -- it's mostly just a guess -- but there's pretty definitely two different types of humor in the book. (One of the clearly-not-Eisner's-work comics is signed by Diaczun. Whether he contributed more to the book beyond that, or if all the text jokes are strictly Hampton's, I don't know.)

The drawn gags rely on the combination of text and visuals to the extent that, however funny any given gag is, it loses ALL of its humor if you remove either the image or the text. They're simply too integrated, and I'm inclined to believe, since the illustations are clearly Eisner's, that he was the one who worked up those jokes as well. Also, most of these bits are essentially taking a pretty mundane phrase or action (e.g. helping an old lady across the street) and applying it to a bizarre or unusual situation involving aliens. The other type of jokes are more of the 'classic' set-up/bad punchline variety and are just written out in prose. ("TOURIST: Call me a space taxi! GUIDE: Okay, you're a space taxi!" Seriously, that's an actual joke in the book.) While most of these are certainly old enough that I'm sure Eisner would've heard many of them over the years, they do have a different feel to them. Like, if Robin Williams were doing comedy bits and some he cribbed from Jonathan Winters and some he cribbed from Milton Berle, you could probably tell which was which pretty easily.

None of the jokes are especially funny. The book is pretty clearly aimed at a young audience who simply wouldn't have yet heard any of these a million times before they were twelve, and the space theme almost certainly was intended to capitalize on the popularity of Star Wars. But regardless of the quality or even style of the humor, Eisner's illustations here are wonderful. The story pieces are all short, so there's nothing elaborate with the storytelling itself, but the illustations and the linework are quite lovely, particularly all the fiddly bits he includes on the robots and space ships.

Is it a book worth seeking out on its own merits? No, not really. But if you happen across a copy for a few bucks, it's definitely worth picking up just to see Eisner work in a genre that he was never especially known for.
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