Short Takes on Autobio

Posted by on July 19th, 2010 at 5:21 AM

Rob reviews the autobiographical comics Hot Town, by Robyn Jordan; Veggie Dog Saturn #4, by Jason Young; and Snake Pit 2009, by Ben White.

image copyright 2010 Robyn Jordan

Hot Town, by Robyn Jordan. Some of the better autobiographical comics tend to focus on a single concept so as to provide a structure for quotidian observations.  Hot Town centered around a summer spent in New York City, and the casual, loose style of the art aptly reflected summer’s lazy days. Jordan’s work reminded me a lot of Ellen Forney’s “I Was Seven In ’75” comics, employing a fairly thick line and simple but appealing character designs. She also shares Forney’s nature as a free spirit, with strips about nude beaches, community gardens and smoking pot before watching the Olympic opening ceremony. The pacing is key to these one-off strips, wherein she manages to pack a lot of information onto a single page while forcing the reader to slow down and luxuriate in the small joys of summer in the city. By the end of the comic, the reader feels Jordan’s regret for the season being over. This is a well-conceived and executed comic with modest ambitions.

image copyright 2010 Jason Young

Veggie Dog Saturn #4, by Jason Young. Young is an example of a cartoonist who’s not much of a draftsman but is also well aware of his limitations and how to work around them. As a result, these vignettes about his childhood are confidently executed and show off his loosely expressive character design. Young’s modern-day self-caricature of a round-headed man with huge glasses that hide his eyes & a beard is especially amusing and appealing.

Young has a way of zeroing in on particular childhood memories and recontextualizing them for the reader via narrative captions. This approach works, as it was his commentary that made a story about buying a “dirty” swimsuit magazine as a youngster simultaneously funnier and more poignant. “Spacemen” reminded me of the sort of thing that Jesse Reklaw does so well: using a seemingly trivial object or relationship as a means to relate a powerful memory. In this story, Young and his brother inadvertently develop currency in the form of certain toys, but when they become meaningless overnight, it sparks a lifelong aversion to money. Young’s comics are quite earnest and lack the nuance that a Reklaw brings to the page, but that unabashed sincerity has its own charms.

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image copyright 2010 Ben White

Snake Pit  2009, by Ben “Snakepit” White.  White has been doing three-panel diary comics for nearly a decade now, and they’ve always been an example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.  Originally an account of a young punk rocker’s DIY life, his 2009 daily strips reflect a 35-year-old who’s become a video-store manager, has a steady girlfriend & house and mostly plays video games in his spare time.  Sure, he’s in a couple of bands and goes to the occasional party, but Ben Snakepit’s grown up and these strips serve as a sort of record of deterioration of a personal narrative.

image copyright 2010 Ben White

More than once, White laments that these strips are boring, that drawing them is a “chore”, and that “it just doesn’t mean what it used to.”  About three-quarters of the strips involve the following progression: went to work, watched TV, played video games.  Later, after selling a bunch of videos, he happily thinks that he made his personal sales goal–and then acknowledges that this is “absolutely the least punk rock thing I’ve ever said in my life.”

Despite his reservations, White nonetheless feels compelled to continue the strip until the end of 2010, after accumulating a decade’s worth of work.  There’s not a lot of deep, personal insight to be found on a day-to-day basis in these comics like in Jesse Reklaw’s diary strip project.  Instead, this is the story of  a man who once lived a kick-ass, no-future kind of life who woke up one day and found himself living in that future and acting like a responsible adult.  White has no illusions about himself or the life he’s leading (even if he does have some regrets), and that’s reflected in his crude rendering and unpretentious personal narrative.  While this book is frequently a slog to get through and is far from my favorite example of autobiographical comics, the way White establishes a rhythm still makes it an oddly compelling read.

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