Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bio Comics

I've been reading a lot of memoir/autobiography type comics lately. While usually very readable and entertaining, they all have certain similarities which become repetitive over time: many of the authors have similar personalities and traits: they're mostly narcissistic, slightly weird or obsessive, socially awkward types.  That is part of the charm, of course. I thought I'd list some of the best or most interesting ones that are worth checking out:--

The Poor Bastard - Joe Matt

 Philadelphia-born, Toronto-based cartoonist Joe Matt is very much like his peers/friends and co-stars in this book, Seth and Chester Brown, but he's at the more extreme, perverted end of things.  This book collects the first six issues of his comic 'Peepshow' and primarily centers around his unrealistic aspirations towards the female form and crippling obsession with pornography that invade and destroy, yet also drives, many of his relationships with women. Matt is quite gifted at making you care and almost sympathize with him by being quite insightful (though, in the comic, dismissive) of his own shortcomings and insecurities.  It may not be pretty but it sure is honest. His art is like a more refined Peter Bagge though his characters and their motivations, are just as ugly.  This comic primarily focuses on the end of a relationship with one girlfriend - due to his own selfishness and laziness that is posthumously realized by the author but now necessarily his comic alter-ego - and his search for a new girlfriend; this search intensified by his ex's new life and love with a new man.  It (sadly) rings true of real human experience, though his exacting standards and desperate behaviour are probably a bit more exaggerated than a normal, healthy individual!

Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi

 This one is probably familiar to a lot of people from the film that was released a few years ago; the comic is very much the same, but contains more character and historical details that presumably had to be passed over the the constraints of the film's running time.  This memoir follows the character's childhood in Iran post-Revolution, through Iran's war with its neighbour Iraq, and later the Iranian people's struggle against their own, increasingly restrictive government that parallels with her own personal rebellion as a woman in a stifling, aggressively patriarchal society.  It works as both historical drama and memoir, an insider and outsider's view of Iran (she travels to Europe in her late teens and returns to Iran as an adult).  It also shines a light on a much-understood society, that is far too often marginalized and/or misunderstood by Western media; here, Iranians disagree and rebel against the Iranian government, recognizing the inherent dangers of religious ideologues in power and the loss of freedom, both individual and as a society at large, when those ideologues turn to radicalism and isolationism.  There are no easy answers provided, but one does gain an understanding of Iran's people, as opposed to the dominant picture drawn by Western governments and media of a united country of extremists out to eradicate our way of life.

I Never Liked You - Chester Brown

A very effective tale of teenage love/lust, awkwardness and growing up.  What separates this from other coming-of-age tales is that the Brown's comic alter-ego isn't a pathetic, self-pitying narcissist but just an average, slightly nerdy guy in teenagery situations. 

Stitches - David Small

 A brilliant, haunting and insightful take on a young boy (Small) with throat cancer (largely the fault of his radiologist father who dosed him with x-rays at a young age to relieve him of a minor sinus problem), with lots of sketchy and evocative art, poetic imagery that lays bare a tragic, harrowing family life. The author is literally left speechless after a major operation at a young age and observes the disintegration of his family whilst also suffering emotional cruelties at the hands of his parents and elders in his life.

The Girlfriend Trilogy (Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU) - Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown's art is sketchy and almost child-like, and his alter-ego is the epitome of that pathetic, self-pitying character type that's so prevalent in books of this kind. Yet it's also one that rings very true in many cases: everyone will recognize something they themselves have gone through in a relationship (though Brown tends to fall in love with some extreme cases here!)  It's funny, sad and thoughtful all at the same time.  I highly recommend checking out 'How to Be A Man' mini after reading Clumsy; it's a recreation of many scenes from Clumsy but with the benefit of hindsight and humour: Brown goes back to many of the book's scenes and replaces actual events with what he would have liked to have said. It's reprinted in his new collection Undeleted Scenes.