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Jokes and the Unconscious: A Graphic Novel

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Heard the one about the dying father? In this savagely brilliant graphic novel by slam poet Daphne Gottlieb (Final Girl) and Hothead Paisan creator Diane DiMassa, a 19-year-old woman named Sasha loses her father to cancer and takes a job in the hospital where he had worked as a doctor. Moving from room to room with her clipboard of forms, Sasha encounters the insane, the s Heard the one about the dying father? In this savagely brilliant graphic novel by slam poet Daphne Gottlieb (Final Girl) and Hothead Paisan creator Diane DiMassa, a 19-year-old woman named Sasha loses her father to cancer and takes a job in the hospital where he had worked as a doctor. Moving from room to room with her clipboard of forms, Sasha encounters the insane, the suicidal, and the brave -- then returns to her office to look up all her friends' and enemies' medical records. Taking its title from Freud's Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, Gottlieb and DiMassa's first collaboration is both moving and darkly funny. Where comedy meets chemo, where mirth meets mortality, Jokes and the Unconscious explores the murky terrain of grief -- a shadowland of memory, sexual escape, and morbid snickering.


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Heard the one about the dying father? In this savagely brilliant graphic novel by slam poet Daphne Gottlieb (Final Girl) and Hothead Paisan creator Diane DiMassa, a 19-year-old woman named Sasha loses her father to cancer and takes a job in the hospital where he had worked as a doctor. Moving from room to room with her clipboard of forms, Sasha encounters the insane, the s Heard the one about the dying father? In this savagely brilliant graphic novel by slam poet Daphne Gottlieb (Final Girl) and Hothead Paisan creator Diane DiMassa, a 19-year-old woman named Sasha loses her father to cancer and takes a job in the hospital where he had worked as a doctor. Moving from room to room with her clipboard of forms, Sasha encounters the insane, the suicidal, and the brave -- then returns to her office to look up all her friends' and enemies' medical records. Taking its title from Freud's Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, Gottlieb and DiMassa's first collaboration is both moving and darkly funny. Where comedy meets chemo, where mirth meets mortality, Jokes and the Unconscious explores the murky terrain of grief -- a shadowland of memory, sexual escape, and morbid snickering.

30 review for Jokes and the Unconscious: A Graphic Novel

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    (8/10) I just finished rereading this, and I liked it even more the second time around. Jokes and the Unconscious is a collaboration between two unique voices that nevertheless has a strong identity and artistic sense of its own. The story mixes black humour and the everyday horror of death and disease into a narrative about death, family, and love. Humour here is both a form of relief and a bitter mark of hopelessness. The style is a jumble of digressions and temporalities, but like the works o (8/10) I just finished rereading this, and I liked it even more the second time around. Jokes and the Unconscious is a collaboration between two unique voices that nevertheless has a strong identity and artistic sense of its own. The story mixes black humour and the everyday horror of death and disease into a narrative about death, family, and love. Humour here is both a form of relief and a bitter mark of hopelessness. The style is a jumble of digressions and temporalities, but like the works of Phoebe Gloeckner or Linda Barry (clear influences), Jokes and the Unconscious creates a visceral sense of horror and loss, moreso than a straightforward narrative with classically good art would do. Don't go into this expecting a beautiful visual object -- DiMassa's artwork is productively rough and the pages are often oppressively cluttered. All of this contributes to a narrative about a woman being crushed by the horrors of her life, but there's definitely an initial repulsion that may be hard to overcome for some people. If I had to name a flaw, I would say that the story skips around in time too much. The dirty jokes and other digressions are great, but at some points it becomes confusing as to what has happened in the narrative and what hasn't. Jokes and the Unconscious is frequently funny, but overall it's not a pleasant experience. In fact, it's distinctly unpleasant, like swimming through a pool of sludge littered with shards of glass -- or, I imagine, like seeing your father waste away in front of you. This unpleasantness is exactly what makes it a powerful piece of art, and a potentially cathartic one for both creators and readers. Like a long joke, it takes a bit of work to get to any positive emotion, but in the end the wait and the struggle have made it worth it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Dhu

    Jokes and the Unconscious, a collaborative graphic novel written by performance poet Daphne Gottlieb and graphic artist Diane DiMassa (of Hothead Paisan fame) is a brilliant, sometimes savage, sometimes heartbreaking story about coming to terms with death, sexuality, and living in a horribly imperfect world filled with pain, cruelty, callousness, lack of understanding and empathy, ironic co-incidence, and sometimes love and tenderness and just enough transcendence to make it possible to keep on Jokes and the Unconscious, a collaborative graphic novel written by performance poet Daphne Gottlieb and graphic artist Diane DiMassa (of Hothead Paisan fame) is a brilliant, sometimes savage, sometimes heartbreaking story about coming to terms with death, sexuality, and living in a horribly imperfect world filled with pain, cruelty, callousness, lack of understanding and empathy, ironic co-incidence, and sometimes love and tenderness and just enough transcendence to make it possible to keep on living. The narrative is framed within one summer in the life of the protagonist, Sasha, during which she works as a billing clerk in the hospital where her oncologist father, now on his deathbed, formerly practiced. However, the time frame shifts through Sasha's life, telling her story, her family's story, and the story of her father's illness and death in a mostly non-linear fashion. Along the way, it also addresses misogyny, date rape, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, patients's rights, ablism, Holocaust survivor issues, and a host of other issues, some of which may be triggering. It's not an easy book, especially for those who may be dealing with loss of a parent or some of the other situations dealt with, but it's honest and it's worth reading and thinking about.

  3. 4 out of 5

    kate

    i read this in one sitting when i woke up yesterday, which was maybe a bad idea. i loved the idea of a collaboration between these two authors, but the book came together like trying to take a picture of a wide landscape by taking several exposures & lining them up -- the edges don't match. i think it might be worth observing that so many people describe gottlieb as a "darker" version of michelle tea (for her poetry) or alison bechdel (for the lesbian/dead father graphic novel thing). i like i read this in one sitting when i woke up yesterday, which was maybe a bad idea. i loved the idea of a collaboration between these two authors, but the book came together like trying to take a picture of a wide landscape by taking several exposures & lining them up -- the edges don't match. i think it might be worth observing that so many people describe gottlieb as a "darker" version of michelle tea (for her poetry) or alison bechdel (for the lesbian/dead father graphic novel thing). i liked this book, but it felt like a minor work & left me craving something denser & more dynamic -- kathy acker, or maybe karen finley.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Serene Vannoy

    I read this book in a bathroom in Tokyo, during a 100-degree heatwave, while trying to stay awake long enough to finish my shift doing personal-care work. I've never been closer to stoned in my life, and I don't do drugs. Need I even say I highly recommend it?

  5. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    I did NOT like this book. While it is true that there is a lot going on here -- subtle allusions to Freud's works, explorations of humour, trauma and mental illness ect-- this memoir is far too morbid, a-linear and dragged out to be enjoyable. I commend both Gotlieb and DiMassa on this joint effort, but it really falls flat. I think perhaps what hurts this book the most is that it feels like a cheaper version of Bechdel's Fun Home: A Tragic Comedy. Both books deal with gender dysphoria, mental i I did NOT like this book. While it is true that there is a lot going on here -- subtle allusions to Freud's works, explorations of humour, trauma and mental illness ect-- this memoir is far too morbid, a-linear and dragged out to be enjoyable. I commend both Gotlieb and DiMassa on this joint effort, but it really falls flat. I think perhaps what hurts this book the most is that it feels like a cheaper version of Bechdel's Fun Home: A Tragic Comedy. Both books deal with gender dysphoria, mental illness, and patriarchal abuse, but Fun Home is infinitely more developed and not nearly as off-putting. The morbid imagery in Jokes and the Unconscious is really out of place. Disappointing read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

    I did like this, but was not as blown away by it as I hoped to be. I'm a huge fan of Diane DiMassa's work on Hothead Paisan, but honestly I felt like her art was under-utilized in this book. Her art in this book is really really good, don't get me wrong, but I didn't like the story as much as DiMassa's own stories. Also, while this book covered taboos, it felt tame in comparison to Hothead. I feel bad comparing them but it was hard not to!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mr Osowski

    I liked it. There were lots of cool concepts in there and lots of things to keep you thinking. I will think about this from time to time, I'm sure. That being said, it read a lot like it was written by a slam poet. There was a certain lack of an overarching plot arc which, while totally cool in poetry, is a little off putting in a novel (even a graphic novel). I didn't feel like I knew how it all came together, and there weren't the moments of clarity that some writers give you when they make th I liked it. There were lots of cool concepts in there and lots of things to keep you thinking. I will think about this from time to time, I'm sure. That being said, it read a lot like it was written by a slam poet. There was a certain lack of an overarching plot arc which, while totally cool in poetry, is a little off putting in a novel (even a graphic novel). I didn't feel like I knew how it all came together, and there weren't the moments of clarity that some writers give you when they make things clear. It was just a collection of some cool thoughts that kind of centered around a small number of characters and events. I liked it. Just not awesome.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    While i was interested in the collaboration between these two authors, i found that at most points the prose & the drawings didn't rely on each other. The drawings served mostly as illustrations when i would have liked to see a firmer meld. I think this book is a good piece of social history: it frames a modern aesthetic regarding how the current artistic generation relates to beauty and pain, the detached romance of self-harm & the meaningfulness of meaningless acts. I was glad to see Di While i was interested in the collaboration between these two authors, i found that at most points the prose & the drawings didn't rely on each other. The drawings served mostly as illustrations when i would have liked to see a firmer meld. I think this book is a good piece of social history: it frames a modern aesthetic regarding how the current artistic generation relates to beauty and pain, the detached romance of self-harm & the meaningfulness of meaningless acts. I was glad to see DiMassa's work outside of Hothead Paisan because that character is far too over-the-top for me to enjoy. Her thin, shaky lines commonly accentuate rage, but in this book i was touched by the panels that looked like wood cuts & i enjoyed the visual puns, such as the way the computers were drawn. I hate saying it was an "okay" read because i respect how much work went into this book, but nothing about it really captured me. I was also turned off my the presumptuous inclusion of Freud when the story never delved nearly as deeply into analysis or scholarly thought. The parallels between jokes & uncomfortable situations was glaringly obvious enough.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    Daphne Gottlieb is a pretty awesome writer-poet and Hothead Paisan creator Diane DiMassa is a pretty awesome artist-cartoonist, so the pairing of the two just feels right. I was impressed with Gottlieb’s book of poems Final Girl, and her voice in this meditation/memoir on grief is powerful and assured from start to finish. As far as DiMassa’s drawings are concerned, it is very difficult as a cartoonist to take on already-written prose – as several readers pointed out below there are sections her Daphne Gottlieb is a pretty awesome writer-poet and Hothead Paisan creator Diane DiMassa is a pretty awesome artist-cartoonist, so the pairing of the two just feels right. I was impressed with Gottlieb’s book of poems Final Girl, and her voice in this meditation/memoir on grief is powerful and assured from start to finish. As far as DiMassa’s drawings are concerned, it is very difficult as a cartoonist to take on already-written prose – as several readers pointed out below there are sections here where DiMassa seems to be struggling to complement and/or expand on Gottlieb’s text and not just illustrate it. She is far more comfortable in the surreal mode - when given the chance in Jokes and the Unconscious to let her considerable creative powers fly she makes the most of the opportunity, creating some beautifully creepy, potent imagery. It would be really cool for these two artists to collaborate again, especially if it means we get more comics from DiMassa, which we simply don't see enough of these days (she's gone in a more fine art direction of late). Four stars and recommended.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Salome Wilde

    I read this for DiMassa's art, being a big fan of Hothead Paisan. Much of the art is darkly imaginative, simple and moody. Generally, it suits the text well. I hadn't read Gottlieb before, and this was an engaging intro to her content and style. Lie and death and love and desire tangle and weave, and I enjoyed the troubling voyage through a short time in the young woman's life. Weaknesses to me were limited to a self- indulgence often found in confessional graphic novels. Less pith and power tha I read this for DiMassa's art, being a big fan of Hothead Paisan. Much of the art is darkly imaginative, simple and moody. Generally, it suits the text well. I hadn't read Gottlieb before, and this was an engaging intro to her content and style. Lie and death and love and desire tangle and weave, and I enjoyed the troubling voyage through a short time in the young woman's life. Weaknesses to me were limited to a self- indulgence often found in confessional graphic novels. Less pith and power than the author seems to assume at times, and a few images didn't fit the description in ways that a more nuanced artist's style might have. But these are minor complaints. Finally, I bought this as an eBook and I recommend not. Form and format disrupted. Wish I'd purchased the paperback.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Enya

    2.5 stars - Not bad but not good. The jokes weren't funny and I'm not sure if they were meant to be, because I don't really understand the appeal of black humour, I don't get black humour. In art-style this reminded me a little of Blue is the Warmest Color and the main character Sasha is bisexual (or maybe pansexual), so it included a similar theme. All in all I wouldn't necessarily recommend this graphic novel. I liked the idea of it but it didn't fulfill its potential. Lemony Snicket was wrong 2.5 stars - Not bad but not good. The jokes weren't funny and I'm not sure if they were meant to be, because I don't really understand the appeal of black humour, I don't get black humour. In art-style this reminded me a little of Blue is the Warmest Color and the main character Sasha is bisexual (or maybe pansexual), so it included a similar theme. All in all I wouldn't necessarily recommend this graphic novel. I liked the idea of it but it didn't fulfill its potential. Lemony Snicket was wrong (his enthused, creatively phrased recommendation on the front cover made it seem like a spectacular read -er, no).

  12. 5 out of 5

    David

    A morbidly dark, dark, dark (did I mention dark) graphic novel centered around a young woman's search for meaning in her father's death as well as her sexuality. 19 year old Sasha spends her summer working as a clerk at the same hospital her father worked as a doctor. Along the way she encounters a motley cast both in the hospital and in her life. The vignettes get a few stars for creativity; however, the tale is so fragmented and disconnected as to leave the reader with a big MEH at the END. I' A morbidly dark, dark, dark (did I mention dark) graphic novel centered around a young woman's search for meaning in her father's death as well as her sexuality. 19 year old Sasha spends her summer working as a clerk at the same hospital her father worked as a doctor. Along the way she encounters a motley cast both in the hospital and in her life. The vignettes get a few stars for creativity; however, the tale is so fragmented and disconnected as to leave the reader with a big MEH at the END. I'm curious what Gottlieb and DiMassa may put together next, if they collaborate again, because there were signs this could have been great.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andre

    This book isn't your typical graphic novel. It takes the mundane: a college aged girl loosing her father, and twists it into the surreal. The story itself reads largely like a written novel with the art adding layers more than detail. Paced by uneasy jokes, this graphic novel pushes its tale forward with all the pithy desperation of fight club complimented by haunting artwork. If you're looking for Allison Bechdel, you won't find it here, but if you're up for a somewhat nihilistic walk through th This book isn't your typical graphic novel. It takes the mundane: a college aged girl loosing her father, and twists it into the surreal. The story itself reads largely like a written novel with the art adding layers more than detail. Paced by uneasy jokes, this graphic novel pushes its tale forward with all the pithy desperation of fight club complimented by haunting artwork. If you're looking for Allison Bechdel, you won't find it here, but if you're up for a somewhat nihilistic walk through the grieving process, then the experience is well worth the read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Allison Floyd

    I generally find that anything this author writes is worth picking up, and I'd been curious about this one for a while. So, when I found it at the library, I checked it out. This was a good book: a pithy and often poignant mediation on grief and the many ways that bodies and hearts betray us. The documentation of the process of mourning a person you have alternately loved and feared rang especially true. The artwork acts as an integral component to the story; you couldn't have one without the ot I generally find that anything this author writes is worth picking up, and I'd been curious about this one for a while. So, when I found it at the library, I checked it out. This was a good book: a pithy and often poignant mediation on grief and the many ways that bodies and hearts betray us. The documentation of the process of mourning a person you have alternately loved and feared rang especially true. The artwork acts as an integral component to the story; you couldn't have one without the other. Glad I finally happened upon this one.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Aneesa

    I liked the story, and I thought some of the drawings added to it, but it mostly feels like an illustrated book instead of a comic (the writing is both dialog and description, and was probably written first). I also think I would have been more inclined to read it in the first place if I had known it's about a girl working in the payment department of a hospital.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Printable Tire

    Lately I haven't felt like reading anything substantial for the first time in what seems like in a while. But I've been reading bits and pieces of this, and I finally finished it last night (coincidentally today I went to a wake). It was a little disjointed, but altogether I found it to be really good. The jokes were TERRIBLE, though.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Wonderful book. It's a first person account of a woman who is experiencing the death of her father. She works as a biller in the hospital as well. She's also bisexual. And likes morbid jokes. A nice well-rounded tour of emotions and psyche, with mortality, sickness, jokes, random flings and serious relationships. The art is comicky and morbid and makes it a very interesting read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ania Ostrowska

    Surreal visual references and spooky lines suit the morbid content perfectly well. Dealing with hard core matters in an original, a bit perverted way. A tough cookie but definitely worth it, if you have strong teeth that is.

  19. 5 out of 5

    jillbertini

    Excellent graphic novel. Hard to encapsulate what it is about; a combo of a narrative punctuated with various vignettes. Diane diMassa is a wonderful artist, and Daphne Gottlieb's storytelling hits right in the solar plexus.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

    unfortunately it gets constantly compared to 'fun home', because of the father-death lesbian thing, but it stands on its own. hothead paisan is a little too much for some people, but this is pensive, imaginative, serious, and wonderful.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I really love Daphne Gottlieb's poetry, so of course I snapped this up when I saw it on the sale shelf. Although most of the book is prose, she keeps that same gritty, hard hitting style I like so much. Diane DiMassa's illustrations are the perfect partner.

  22. 5 out of 5

    yengyeng

    This could be so much better if the humour is a tad more droll and the jokes are cleverer. Sobering reminder that dealing with the death of a parent is inevitable. Diane DiMassa's drawings are distinctive and always fun to look at.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jeweleye

    A young woman's graphic memoir of the year her father died.

  24. 5 out of 5

    HeavyReader

    Another book with the potential to disturb and trigger. I really appreciate Diane DiMassa's art, and the story here is engaging too.

  25. 5 out of 5

    kot

    One of the most deeply resonating books I've read in a long time.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    An interesting read exploring the relationship between humour and trauma.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marissa

    It's so great that Diane DiMassa is drawing comics again, especially when her funny, awesome drawings are paired with such well-woven prose. Very, very good.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Liza

    I was really impressed by/interested in this, but also found it kind of hard to take and now it's overdue at the library and I have to return it. Maybe will revisit someday!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rosa

    Every time I read this I end up crying. Every. Single. Time. It's totally cathartic.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    I read this book in one sitting. Holy smokes, was it powerful.

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