At last count, there were about 30 penises in Chad Dunning’s latest comic booklet. That has to be a record of some kind.
Titled “Doomed to Enjoy Failure,” the collection of mainly R-rated cartoons also bears numerous science fiction references -- “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “Dr. Who” for example. Most also include penises. Nothing is out of bounds when it comes to creating a low-brow joke in Dunning’s “Domestic Sway” comic series, even if it means tacking a tallywacker on a semi-truck, airplane or the characters in “The Family Circus.”
“My humor never really progressed past the sophomoric phase,” said the 40-year-old artist.
It’s a style that works for Dunning and is comparable to the likes of cartoonist Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” comics. “Only more perverted,” Dunning said.
“Doomed to Enjoy Failure” will be Dunning’s ninth “Domestic Sway” comic book -- maybe technically his 10th if you count the “Best Of” edition. The latest booklet will be released 8 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 9) at Pete’s 20th with live music performances by Alex Tudehope, It Really Is, Pukalele and Dunning himself. He also decided to pair the publication alongside a CD.
The mixtape -- recorded by Sean Knittel -- features original songs written by Dunning, who admitted he had very little music experience. He was once in a band called Chainsaw Maniac Elvis, where Dunning dressed like Elvis Presley while wearing a hockey mask and carrying a chainsaw. “Other than that, it was a strict Elvis impersonation,” Dunning said with a laugh.
The songs, Dunning said, match the overall tone of the cartoons in “Doomed to Enjoy Failure.” With tunes like “Take a Sh**” and “Bottle of F***,” it’s hard to argue against that.
“They have very similar senses of humor,” said Dunning.
“And they have the same low-brow-ness,” said Knittel, who recorded the CD under his own label, Sex Barn Records. “Chad would keep coming up with ideas. We wrote a jam where he was pretty much reading from the UPS handbook. There’s weird stuff in that handbook.”
Grasp the object with both hands. Get close to the object. Work within your power zone. Get a firm grip. Phrases like that were “comedy gold” said Knittel.
A LONG BREAK
“Doomed to Enjoy Failure” comes out after a near seven-year dry spell. During that time, Dunning had not drawn a single cartoon or made any sort of art. The break, he said, was the result of a “massive breakdown” caused by Dunning’s bipolar disorder that took effect in 2007.
At first, Dunning thought his medicine inhibited his creativity and drive to create cartoons. “But I honestly think that it was more laziness than the meds,” he said. Near the end of 2014, Dunning started drawing again. His cartoons for “Doomed to Enjoy Failure” soon followed. He wrapped up his progress within a year.
When making his ninth “Domestic Sway” book, Dunning said he would try to create a couple of comics a day. Ideas for cartoons aren’t as frequent as they used to be.
“When I was younger, I was more prolific,” he said. “I could come up with five or six different ideas a day. But now it’s down to about one a day.”
Dunning will often start off by drawing two of his recurring, nameless characters. One is a tall and lanky; his face is long and droopy. The other is short and has a thin head of hair; he wears a T-shirt with a target on the front.
"I usually start by doodling them and put words into their mouth," said Dunning. "The more random ones are just me doodling. But those two characters don't really have a lot of personality, they're just kind of like joke vehicles. I guess they're probably perverts, too."
The dark and twisted sense of humor caught on for Dunning, who has been drawing "Domestic Sway" cartoons since 1999. He even developed quite the following and eventually became "Sioux City's second most favorite artist" behind Mark Kochen, Dunning said.
"That's my claim to fame, I guess."
Reflecting on his current works, Dunning said his drawings have become a little more sloppy. He used to be more "technical" in his cartoon styles, using finer pens and whatnot.
"Now I just use Sharpies and those are pretty loose," he said.
Dunning's pen choice may have altered after the seven-year break, but the paper on which he draws sure hasn't. Inside his black, briefcase-like portfolio are large pieces of paper that were given to Dunning when in seventh grade by his father.
On one side are old cartoons Dunning had drawn when he was a teenager. He's used nearly every sheet.
"I'm running out of the paper so I started drawing my new [cartoons] on the back of ones I drew when I was in junior high," said Dunning.
From the looks of his old comics, Dunning's humor also hasn't changed. One panel features a half-person-half-hotdog reciting the lyrics to the song "I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Wiener" while a a genie says, "Your wish is my command."
Of course, if this comic was included in "Doomed to Enjoy Failure," Dunning's "record number" would likely jump to 31.