Book Review: Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies: The Collected Conceits, Delusions, and Hijinks of New Yorkers from 1974 to 1995

For over two decades, cartoonist Stan Mack contributed weekly comic strips to the Village Voice recounting his overheard observations of life in the Big Apple. This new hardcover collection compiles a healthy selection of those strips, arranged in chronological order with multiple new era-specific introductions by Mack. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the strip or a complete neophyte, this amusing stroll through New York history offers a wealth of indelible scenarios.

Buy Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies” The Collected Conceits, Delusions, and Hijinks of New Yorkers from 1974 to 1995

Crazy things happen in New York, but Mack’s strips prove that they’re even wilder than our imaginations. Mack attended sketchy events such as a looping session for a porn film, a hot-tub sales event with bikini girls enticing prospective buyers into the water to sample the wares, and a nudist retreat featuring a stripper with unique skills. More above-board shenanigans occurred at events like a Plasmatics concert where he visited the band backstage and a friendly baseball game between the staff of Playboy and Screw magazines, but for all the depravity he encountered, the strip never feels exploitative; it’s just comically clinical recounting of incredible situations.

Although Mack is no master draftsman, his black-and-white sketchbook scribbles carry a charming immediacy that bring life to his dialogue-heavy strips. Figures shift between fairly realistic proportions to oddly short with overly large heads, while their fashions show the inevitable changes through the years. Panel layouts are also fluid, ranging from ten-panel grids to single frames and every other configuration in between, adapting to the needs of his weekly scenario. 

For a fun game, find the strip that appeared closest to your first trip to NYC. For me, that was March 1976, which corresponded with Mack’s visit to a bawdy panel discussion between famed cartoonists Robert Crumb and Harvey Kurtzman at Parsons School of Design. Long before I had any recognition of those two legends, Mack was a sketching fly-on-the-wall documenting an event that would have blown my adult mind. It’s just that kind of personal, on-the-scene reporting of a different time that makes these strips worth examination decades later. 

For all of the wild “only in New York” situations he documented, he also recounted actual history in the making. From random passersby commenting on current politics such as views on Carter and Reagan, to the emergence of the AIDS epidemic, to protests over diverse topics such as nuclear energy, gentrification, and even gay authenticity on the set of Al Pacino’s Cruising, Mack was there to capture the on-the-street reality for all time.

The new collection from Fantagraphics arrives in a sturdy 336-page hardcover measuring over 12” x 9”, printed on matte archival paper with a foreward by Jake Tapper and an afterword by Jeannette Walls.

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Steve Geise

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