Henrik Drescher’s Tales From the Crib: True Confessions of a Shameless Procreator (Harvest/Harcourt Brace & Co., unpaged, $9.95, paper) should quell even the strongest breeding urges. This morbidly humorous cartoon opus views parenthood as a living nightmare, an unholy visitation upon the foolish and the good-intentioned alike.
Working exclusively in unappetizing, scorched hues of orange and black, the artist considers the decision to reproduce. “Is there an untold sinister side to child rearing,” he wonders, “a dark hell-bound side street, a one-way alley that no one dared reveal when you started down that hormone-splattered highway toward…instinct’s magnetic collision course?” A cadaverous cartoon woman and man, each astride a clip-art motor-scooter, careen toward each other. Later, a baby is labeled a “booby trap”; merely by taking note of the trap’s “cute belly,” a single man can be “bachelorhoodwinked.”
Such wordplay is characteristic of letterman Drescher, who turns “courtship” into “coit-ship,” then demonstrates how a well-appointed “post-modern interior” becomes a debris- strewn “post-partum interior.” His unsentimental view of childbirth (“Words to look up in the dictionary: episiotomy, placenta, mucus plug, meconium. All these are undrawable”) is designed to alarm the squeamish; he takes the realistic view that infants are bundles of id, focused solely on self-gratification. Optimism is in short supply, although it’s heartening that the frazzled parents share child-rearing responsibilities.
Die-cut in the shape of a baby bottle, Tales From the Crib misses no opportunity for oddness—it even features flip-animation in its rubber-nipple area. As the pages are scanned from front to back, a cartoon baby throws three temper tantrums, then smiles benignly. When the pages are riffled from back to front, comics depict the child’s harried, whimpering father. These moderately disturbing images, however, are no match for the textual horrors.
Despite its grim hilarity, Tales From the Crib‘s sense of desperation grows troubling. In one collage, a man with a pie-chart for a brain (there are only four options: “sleep…play dead…run away… change diapers”) points a pistol at himself. In another, a smiling woman, clipped from a ’50s magazine ad, reclines on a daybed as fiendish, teething infants gnaw her legs to the bone. One carries her pump-shod foot away in its mouth. Yet the corny, Eisenhower-era cutouts temper the grotesquery. Drescher goes behind the scenes in Middle America to reveal a bizarre, stressed-out world.
Throughout, the author—who’s written gleefully monstrous children’s books including The Boy Who Ate Around and Pat the Beast ie—evidently speaks from experience. In the jacket photo, Drescher poses with his two elementary-age children, who stare sullenly, and his wife and infant son, who smile as if oblivious to the terrors of family life. Giant plastic flies are affixed to their clothing. Like many of the bleakly funny illustrations, it’s a resounding image. Parenthood is tough, but being a kid in the Drescher household might not be that easy either.