Monday, March 27, 2006

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine

The other day I was browsing in Newbury Comics and I saw one of those strange things that you just know will probably be stuck in your head until the day you die.

There was an old man - if he was a day under 75, I'd be surprised - bald, stooped, using two-canes to walk. Now, an old man being inside Newbury Comics was admittedly odd enough. But what was he buying?

An Armand van Helden 12".

Yeah, I think that's probably the weirdest thing I've seen in many, many months.

Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed?

by Liz Prince

At the risk of appearing a curmudgeon (me? never!), I should probably say that regardless of Liz Prince's skill as a cartoonist, her subject manner leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, it's enough to recognize that there are cutesy people in the world, and that said cutesy people will probably meet, fall in love and have cutesy relationships. Hell, I have been occasionally accused of cutesyness myself. But a surfeit of cute? Well, that's just a recipe for disaster. Anyone who's ever been in an English class knows that when an author stresses anything to the brink of incredulity, it usually means just the opposite. That's called irony. So how else are we to interpret the barrage of cutesy relationship humor in Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed? than as a coded message of domestic tragedy, a modern-day Kramer vs. Kramer played out in the lingo of the cute-addled modern hipsterati?

(Not actually from Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed?, but fairly indicative of her work nonetheless. There's more where this came from here.)

"But you're so cute I want to squeeze the pee out of you!" probably means "I hate you for ruining my life and taking everything of value from my soul, leaving me a twisted and shrunken shell of a man."

"You haven't given me any special kisses in a long time . . . I want specialer ones!" probably means "Now that our love is a cold and shattered husk, there's nothing left for me but the long and futile road to a dusty, forgotten death."

The bit where Liz pretends that the teapot is talking and says "Hi, Kevin, Liz thinks you're cute" is probably a veiled reference to an absolutely unforgivable act of domestic violence, probably involving scalding hot water, a fireplace poker, and a starving ferret, ultimately resulting in a trip to the hospital and an arrest warrant.

It's simply too depressing a scenario to contemplate. Surely, the hatred and loathing on display here rivals even The Lockhorns for sheer soul-numbing passive-aggressive torpor.

The thing is, despite the unremittingly grim subject matter of her strips, Prince's art is still quite attractive. She wears her influences on her sleeve, and considering the fact that this is her first book you can't really hold them against her. Jeffrey Brown contributes a brief forward, and James Kochalka provides an (unflattering) illustration of the author. Much as it used to be de rigueur for up-and-coming, journeyman (and even established) mainstream artists to ape Kirby and Buscema, there's nothing particularly wrong with being up-front about your influences in the indie scene: if it were, Adrian Tomine would long ago have had an appointment with Ol' Sparky. Now, if five or ten years pass and Prince is still aping Brown so heavily, well, that will be a different story: but for the time being I'm willing to chalk it up to the process growing up and into your own style.

And there's no denying that it is definitely a pleasant style. Even given the soul-deadening abject cruelty of her subject matter, her work combines the best aspects of her influences -- Brown's keen eye for gesture and expression, along with Kochalka's sense of pacing and whimsy. Ideally, this kind of choice appropriation could bode well for her career. If she can prove as apt at shuffling and sifting other influences and ideas, she should find copious fertile ground for further work, easing into a more comfortably distinctive style as a matter of course. Or, she could produce another book of cutesy relationship vignettes that make me want to drink drain cleaner. Either one.

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