I Saw You: Review by Bill Randall

Posted by on December 7th, 2009 at 12:02 AM

I Saw You; Julia Wertz, ed.; Three Rivers Press;  192 pp., #12.95; B&W, Softcover; ISBN: 9780307408532


In an ideal world, you and your true love would meet cute in a coffee shop.  Then you’d get separated, but a glance at a Missed Connection ad would bring you back together.  Ideally, it would be printed on romantic newsprint, next to the work of young cartoonists, handsomely paid for their work.  Who cares if it’s mostly slight?  They’re learning their craft and paying the bills.

In this world, such ads appear on Craigslist’s cold digital screen while young cartoonists have few other platforms for their work.  One such cartoonist, Julia Wertz, has edited a collection of comics adapting the ads.  She’s best known for Fart Party, an autobiographical webcomic that camouflages its romantic core with bourbon, dirty laundry and bitching about Brooklyn.  So the urban isolation of Craigslist personals is a natural fit.  I Saw You began as a free mini she gave away at the Alternative Press Expo.  A determined agent pestered her until it became a book published by a New York house.  With a couple of pages for each artist, it recalls the Small Press Expo anthologies of the late ’90s.

The ads themselves are funny, sad, usually pathetic.  As for the comics, they offer very little to discuss.  The funny ones, like Kenny Keil’s, made me laugh.  Others made me feel embarrassed for their creators.  Several are painfully amateurish, better suited to Livejournal than a book.  Wertz stated in the introduction that she “wanted the book to showcase not only the quirky nature of missed connection ads, but also the growing scene of alternative comics.”  And her circle of colleagues — Laura Park, Alec Longstreth, Liz Prince — turn in the book’s strongest work by far.  In one telling example, pieces by Kazimir Strzepek and Aaron Renier bookend a two-pager by Mari Naomi.  Naomi’s entry is OK, but the other two render it invisible with their lush, fully realized execution.  I’d have preferred it if Wertz focused only on her small circle of remarkably talented cartoonists.  Artists not invited might have cried foul, but the book would have been less forgettable.

However, the blame for the missed opportunity goes not to Wertz and the cartoonists so much as the publisher.  The determined agent, whom Wertz turned down at least four times, must have seen an easy sell.  “Comics inspired by Craigslist” has a prepackaged blurb and a potentially huge audience.  It’s a gift book, something you give your sister’s new boyfriend at Christmas every year.  Ideally, this book would have served as a coming-out party for the cartoonists involved.  In fact, it should serve as a reminder that book publishers aren’t the art form’s salvation and that the best place to find a new generation of cartoonists is the same as Craigslist: online.

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