Renaissance guy O’Brien (who, in addition to penning New Yorker cartoons and illustrating prolifically for children, plays banjo and lifeguards in North Wildwood, N.J.) delivers wacky vignettes riffing on six professional tropes: farmer, chef, woodsman, knight, doorman and clown.
Throughout, double entendres and puns are made visual in titled cartoon strips composed of two to six panels each. In the group of stories about the profession of chef, a hatless pizza man rolls out and tosses dough that descends to settle on his head as a voluminous toque, and in “The Alphabet Soup,” the chef appeases an angry diner by fishing out three offending letters from his bowl: F, L and Y. A doorman’s thought bubble depicts a nearby water cooler; as he fetches a drink, the water cooler’s own thought bubble depicts the doorman. O’Brien finds particular fodder in a cartoonist’s stock trappings: A noisy snorer’s “ZZZZs” are shooed out a lobby window by the doorman, and one of the silliest bits has a dairy farmer, after looking fruitlessly for his cow’s udders, milking a word balloon that contains the cow’s “MOO!” Stippled watercolor in the muted tones of old comics underlie crosshatched ink drawings, and O’Brien’s own hand lettering appears throughout.
If the laughs come a tad unevenly, come they do: good, absurdist fun with sly, existential winks. (Picture book. 5-8)