I received review copy of this book in the mail a few weeks ago. I've had a hard time reviewing it since then, and here's why: I find it hard to accept that this book is real. I know it exists, but it seems like an elaborate hoax, or possibly a practical joke. Or possibly concept art. Those things are all basically the same thing.
You know those coffee table books that get released upon the death or career turning point of major artist? The ones that collect all their unpublished work for fans to drool and obsess over. That is what Arcade of Cruelty most resembles in style and format, but here's the twist; the book is not about a major artist. It's about Joseph Patrick Larkin, a nonfamous, not particularly successful youngish man who may or may not consider himself a cartoonist.
Arcade of Cruelty is a hateful, self-aggrandizing, self-immolating, intensely exhibitionist celebration of Joseph Patrick Larkin, by Joseph Patrick Larkin, and very possibly for Joseph Patrick Larkin. It collects a wide-cross section of anything Larkin has produced since he was about about eight years old. This includes defaced high school yearbook photos, collages designed for aid in masturbation ("Excerpts From Joseph Patrick Larkin's Beat Off Binders"), visual art so pretentious it may be parody, and an entire chapter of 9-11 jokes.
It would be easy to label this book as a vanity project produced by a crazy person, but for two factors. First of all, some of the material is really funny. While Arcade of Cruelty isn't something I would ever consider reading cover to cover (did I mention it's long?), each section has something that made me smile, chuckle knowlingly, or even LOL. The personage of Joseph Patrick Larkin as represented in this book is a mean-spirited loser, a man who despises women almost as much as he fears them, and whose go-to topics of comedic inspiration include rape, domestic violence, and 9-11. And some of those 9-11 jokes are really funny. Your reception of his humor will probably be best received by A) suicidal misogynists or B) people who enjoy terribly dark humor and who see the whole thing as straight-faced self-parody. I come down more on the B side, but I still feel kind of bad for enjoying so much of it.
The second thing that separates this book from any other sort of self-published wingnut zine is how expensive and fancypants the production is. It's self-published by Larkin's one-man company, Also-Ran, which judging from the website appears to mostly distribute Larkin's personal mixtapes. And yet the book is extremely well designed with a sense of seriousness and professionalism that can be found in absolutely none of the book's content. Each piece in the book is labeled with a Fine Arts Museum style title, caption and date. In the aforementioned Beat Off Binder chapter, every masturbation collage is accompanied by the same caption: "This is deeply troubling." As far as caption-based running gags go, this is pretty good. Also this section includes a really great picture of Fairuza Balk, which may be worth the price of the entire book, which by the way is $7.49 used on Amazon.
What sort of cognative split does one need to undergo to publish the contents of one's attic as if it was going to be sold at the MOMA gift shop? Maybe it will! I am not sure of anything after receiving this book in the mail. End of review.