“I wasn’t aware, is that good?” JOAN CORNELLÀ replies when asked about his awareness of being an iconic meme of the Millennial generation. There’s no other way of hiding it. The kids of today laugh in the face of danger — literally. We prefer our humor like how our dads prefer their coffee: Vantablack dark, with tones of underlying guilt, and in comic strips, if possible. This makes Joan our perfect cup of black coffee. With every nation’s politics being an indication of the world going to the crapper, what better way to not be driven into insanity than to laugh about it? But not for us to be desensitized about our current state. Dark coffee still has that warmth and comfort after all.
Joan Cornellà is the illustrator behind those minimalist, absurdist comics that pops up in your feed every now and then that’ll either make you ROFL or type WTF with numerous exclamation points. He’s one of the forefathers of Internet Nihilism which is prevalent in not only art, but in web humor as well. His humor is more than just “edgy” — it’s darker than Black Mirror’s future. But before that, he already has built his stake in the contemporary art world.
His illustrations graced big named publication like The New York Times and the Spanish satirical magazine El Jueves. Hell, he even worked with Wilco at one point and made the cover art for Schmilco. From his time illustrating his graphic novel Abulio to his beloved book called Mox Nox, his art style had changed drastically, but his humor remained the same. “Death and Love have been always the big themes,” he describes his work’s thematics. “In my comics, death is shown in a humorous way to try to deal with it. It’s like saying aloud that deep down we’re nothing. Humor is a way of exorcising tragedy.”
“Humor is a way of exorcising tragedy.”
There are no words to describe Joan’s work. Seriously, there are literally no words. The way he make his tragic, ironic funnies are purely through visuals. It makes his art so universal and World Wide Web perfect. Maybe in another time, Joan might be a subject of an art world witch hunt. But this is the time were any bozo can be president after all, making anything seemingly acceptable, like violence being a gross-out punchline. “There is a long tradition of black humor. It’s something we can find in many cultures. This kind of humor is in almost all of my works, but I like to think that what make my comics funny is the fact that they are treated in an absurd way.” And honestly, nothing is more absurd than the world today. We’re talking about a world where satire news turns into real headlines and violence is just a gust of wind in a perfect day.
“In a work by Beckett, a character says that ‘there is nothing more fun than misfortune’. That’s true. Death is something we do not know how to face and when that happens, we can only laugh or cry,” he drops a stone cold fact. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to look away from his character’s beady eyes. Whether he’s your problematic fave or cynical daddy minus the Electra complex, us the youth still repost and share his unsettling comics in our social media handles. “I think my work has sense in the time we live in,” he says with certainty. The horrors of today and the day after that could literally kill a man. Laughing with the absurd rather than fight it makes waking up another day… well bearable.
“I think my work has sense in the time we live in.”
While the dark and absurd is more welcome in the mainstream, there will always be naysayers. There’s a good distance between him as a person and him as an artist. It’ll be weird if he’s constantly down to decapitate people and replace their heads with cat heads. But sometimes, people see him solely as his beady eyed creations and not as a separate entity. “I think there is a distance between my work and myself. Although, my sense of humor has always been black and absurd. I think my work reflects the cynicism of real life, not mine. I do not like to explain my work constantly, but the way it is sometimes interpreted is ridiculous. And that’s why that painting I did in which two guys appear warming their hands, thanks to a bonzo, was censored on Instagram,” he recalls a certain incident.
“The problem is that people think that I’m one of the guys appearing on the canvas and don’t make an effort to see that there are different interpretations. This is fiction.”
“People reported that picture after insulting me indiscriminately, so it was removed without my consent. The problem is that people think that I’m one of the guys appearing on the canvas and don’t make an effort to see that there are different interpretations. This is fiction. There are people who only understand things in a literal sense, it’s like saying that Cohen Brothers are murderers because people appear killing people in their movies.”
“Every art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
His artwork certainly reflect these dark times we’re living in. But for all the disturbed and WTF—ckrs out there, the reality is his work is what we need the most. There’s something liberating about young people laughing at the face of doom and death, empowering even. “We need humor to relieve the pain,” he says. “Every art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable,” he continues. That’s his most honest and sincere artist’s statement with no sarcasm hinted. It’s better to be self-aware in this screwed up realm than to fake a smile and tell ourselves that everything’s okay. And so, we drink his cup of black coffee. We do it with a smile, gusto, and existential awareness that no other comic will ever bring.