Sweet Misery: Memory Foam

Posted by on October 6th, 2010 at 5:43 AM

Rob reviews Memory Foam #1 and #2, by Toby Jones.

Toby Jones is an autobio miserablist.  He whines, he complains and he wallows in complaints both petty and existential about his life and the direction it’s going in.  He’s the picture of the post-college slacker unsure of what he wants to do next, other than having a general idea of being famous and successful.  What sets him apart is that he’s self-effacing in a way that’s not attempting to solicit the reader’s sympathy as well as consistently, laugh-out-loud funny.  Between these comics and the first bursts I’ve seen from Emi Gennis, I’d say that autobio is ripe for a potential creative (and comedic) revival from a younger generation of artists.

Jones is also aided by his undeniable skill as a cartoonist.  At the moment, he’s still trying to figure out his ideal style, and these first two issues of his minicomic Memory Foam have their choppy moments.  Jones flips back and forth regarding the weight of his line, the way he shades his strips, his use of hatching, page & panel composition and even the particulars of his character design.  In the second issue, he settles on stripped-down character designs that are less abstract and big-footed than in some of the strips in the first issue.  They remind me a bit of the way Ivan Brunetti initially simplified his figures after the long delay between Schizo #3 and Schizo #4.  While his line varies in thickness in this issue, the versatility of his style enables him to sling gags and introspection with equal facility.

At heart, Jones’ dilemma is that of the misanthrope who nonetheless feels himself needing the company of others.  He feels paralyzed by his own type-A tendencies to constantly have “work” to do and so keep him away from others, but at the same time is frustrated by the nature of his work.  It’s obvious that Jones is quite aware that there’s plenty about his life that’s great (especially his girlfriend) and so he plays his neuroses for laughs.  That self-awareness turns his rants into punchlines, with his negativity becoming a finely-honed comic tool turned against himself as often as it is against the rest of the world.  While his style and the nature of his humor is different than Brunetti’s in some key ways, that relentless edge is a key similarity, along with a willingness to make himself a prime target.

Jones similarly uses embarrassing personal details, like declining birthday sex with his girlfriend because he’s worried that he’s too full and would vomit on her.  In “It’s Much Worse”, Jones shifts from his standard cartoony style to full-on funny & exaggerated drawings to highly-realistic drawings to emphasize shifts in emotional tone; the punchline in this strip is how killing a mouse was supposedly going to scar him for life, but he forgot about the whole thing in a couple of days…while the mouse rotted away.

“I Can’t Deal” shows Jones at his most emotionally inept as he’s trying to comfort his girlfriend after the death of her father, trying to negotiate her family and his own self-centeredness.  This is a strip I’d like to see him draw again in his newer, sharper style because it’s a bit ragged around the edges.  “Cold Feet” sees him use gray-scaled, tubular noses and more shading in general in a story about dealing with a fishy vacuum-cleaner company.  “Where Do I Put It?  Where Does It Go?” is a classic menial job story, told with flair and charm.  The scene where he wakes up and asks the title question to his girlfriend is an especially hilarious but downbeat moment, as his every thought was consumed by his mindless job.

Jones has the potential to become a big-time talent.  He should be able to smooth out his rougher edges as he continues to draw.  He’s already a keen observer of his environment and brutally honest about his own shortcomings.  He’s emotionally earnest but never sentimental, nor is he flip in a manner that deflects self-examination.  The man can set up a gag both verbally and with funny images, and isn’t solely reliant on either to tell a story.  This is an artist who’s obviously ready to tackle a longer story and really push himself.  Hopefully, he’ll have both the opportunity and drive to do so.

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