Parody frequently gets a bad rap as a lazy out. The rash of cash-in parody flicks throughout the 2000s tied to Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer single-handedly oversaturated the movie market, while the amazing world-shifting satire created by The Colbert Report is regarded more as satire despite the show’s and character’s roots are firmly planted in the language of parody.
Good parody takes a common language of tropes and personalities and plays with them like puns on a page. Parody is a remix and reinvention that examines the inner-workings of a piece, then chooses what to keep and what to scrap to create a new piece. It’s both collage and formalist approach. And the fact that these forms are then repurposed for what is considered a low art can be a liberation.
All this being said, long-time purveyor of parody MAD Magazine released a startling dark piece of parody last month with The Ghastlygun Tinies. A parody of Edward Gorey’s alphabet jaunt The Ghastlycrumb Tinies, writer Matt Cohen and Artist Marc Palm contextualize a classic work of playful dread to comment on the modern trauma of school shootings.
Mirroring the same couplets and crosshatches that are the cornerstones of Gorey’s work, Ghastlygun makes the fantastical real to great social comment that doesn’t seek to belittle the original work. Instead, the original’s playful “kids in peril” are brought into a harsher reality of real peril.
This powerful work of parody is even more powerful when you consider the audience of MAD magazine is comprised of young adults who are grappling with the reality depicted in these panels. Some readers will not know the original source material. That’s okay. Parody can stand without prior or perfect knowledge of the source material. It’s a dark catharsis, one that feels like a gut punch to me, but a likely deeper resonance to its the real-life Ghastlygun Tinies themselves that walk into these panels five days a week.