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Comic Dictionary – Cousin Larry Trick

If you ever watched the show “Perfect Strangers,” it involved two cousins, one a urban man named Larry, and the other, a foreigner named Balki.

Larry was the kind of guy who was always trying to take the easy way out, to say stuff like “but EVERYbody does it, so it’s okay!” and always trying to take short cuts and never wanting to own up to his mistakes.

Balki, though, was the innocent and he always had to be Cousin Larry’s conscience.

Therefore, when used in reference to discussing comics, a “Cousin Larry trick” is when a creator does something sneaky (I first used underhanded here, but that has too much of a negative connotation), most notably the use of “irony in afterthought.”

The term comes from Mike Nelson’s review of “Wild Things,” and his example of a Cousin Larry trick is the specific example that I personally use most of the time, and that is that the producers of Wild Things set out to make a thriller, and when people mocked it for being a poor thriller, they attempted to claim that it wasn’t a bad thriller, but a good comedy.

That’s a Cousin Larry trick.

And you’ll see it used in comics a lot.

Chuck Austen is currently using a Cousin Larry trick with his independent series, Worldwatch. It is terrible exploitative comics with awful dialogue and characterization, but if you point that out, you’re told “it’s SUPPOSED to be like that!”

Total Cousin Larry trick.

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Here’s a sort-of cousin larry trick, not created by a creator but rather by his fans. At some point, the cult of Frank Miller became so huge that it was widely believed that he could write nothing bad. Thus, whenever something with Frank Miller came out that was apparently awful, it became the norm to just say that it was a “spoof”, “satire” or “parody” and not meant to be taken at face value. Even though Miller never claimed any of his works like Sin City were satires (and even denied it at times), this approach has persisted to today.

Another cousin larry trick, although it’s a pretty forgiveable one, is when you have a major flaw in your story, but you admit this flaw in-story as a way to inoculate yourself against criticism. The recent Scott Pilgrim has Scott mentioning how the volume is closing and he needs a poorly plotted last-minute Deus Ex Machina to save him. Suddenly it comes. Except now you can’t criticize it as a Deus Ex Machina because O’Malley already pointed it out.

T–

Pointing out problems with your own story in the story itself already has a term. It’s called “hanging a lantern on it.”

It’s not quite a cousin larry trick, mostly because it has to be done to prevent criticism and admit mistakes, rather than weasel out of it and deflect blame.

Never heard the term before, Steven. Thanks for the heads up.

I half stole it from John Rogers in that I knew the idea before under slightly different (and worse) name.

But it’s useful. Alfred now exists almost solely to hang a lantern on Batman.

Haha…that sadly IS true.

How is a cousin larry trick any different from the literary phenomena of irony in afterthought?

Because irony in afterthought is only one of a many different cousin larry tricks.

The term encompasses all “underhanded” writing tricks. And please note that I understand “underhanded” has a really negative connotation, which I really don’t mean.

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