WARNING: This piece does include an announcement of something I’ve just published.
Back when the Peanuts gift book Happiness is a Warm Puppy was published in 1962, it was huge. Not in size, it’s just about five and a half inches square, but in impact. This little thing spent forty-five weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and as best as I have been able to tell, it shaped the modern gift book market. Because success breeds imitation. And success breeds mocking as well. Combine those two factors and you had a whole mini-industry of Happiness is a Warm Parody books from various publishers. Books like Sadness is a back view or Happiness is a Dry Martini (that last one by long-time Tonight Show host Johnny Carson) were hitting the shelves, often copying the size, layout, and odd use of color of the original. Humorous book publisher Kanrom Inc., founded by stand-up comedian Jackie Kannon and printing guy Alexander Roman, took their shot with both barrels. In 1963, they launched two such parodies, both coming from a dark-version-of-the-Playboy-philosophy angle, where marriage is a mistake and sex-with-anyone-but-you-wife is the goal. Happiness is a Rat Fink is the take on the upside (“Rat Fink” is a Jackie Kannon term; his own stand-up site was The Rat Fink Room, he later published Rat Fink Magazine) and Unhappiness is a Dead Dog was the downside. The two books have different people writing the text, different artists drawing the pictures (replete with topless cartoon gals), but they are linked not just by the tone, but which actually have a couple “call backs”, jokes in the second book that are purposely echoing jokes in the first.
And I saw these matched books, and said “hey, they should be under a single cover”… so I’m going ahead and doing it. As of now, these out-of-print-for-decades books are available as a single volume, with the rather obvious title of Happiness is a Rat Fink and Unhappiness is a Dirty Dog. Now, I’m not going to try to convince you that these are great works. They’re interesting looks at a certain mood of the moment. The artists do bring their own styles rather than trying faux-Schulz. Rat Fink illustrator Ken Rinciari was an illustrator for folks like the New York Times and the New York Review of Books. George Botich, who did the ink-and-wash work for Dirty Dog, still enjoys success as an oil painter.
This is not an ideal reprint. For technical reasons, I had to increase the size somewhat, to six inches square. And to keep the price reasonable, the one-color-print-on-one-color-paper look of the original has been replaced with black, white, and shades of gray, with imperfect reproduction. I’m not giving this book my strong endorsement, but if you want it, it lists for a mere $7.99, and you can order it now.
By the way, if you’re reading this and are related to Alexander Roman or are otherwise linked to Kanrom, please drop me a line!