Indie Comics Shortcut: Sad=Nursing Home

After reading the first issue of Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth (AKA Fall-Out Boy video, the comic book) and being entirely taken with it's wisely narrow (for now) scope, literate but not literary writing style and a general just kind of warm, maybe even Salinger-esque mix of ennui and homeliness, the month between #1 and #2 was too great and I went out and got a copy of Lemire's Essex County to hopefully get more of the same thing.

Essex County begins well--Book One is essentially perfect--and shows Lemire's thematics, etc. are fairly consistent. That he might be some kind of termite comics artist, running circles around a couple of ideas in comic after comic. And then Book Two begins and we're stuck with an old guy. A senile, crotchety old guy. And eventually he's going to put in a nursing home by a well-meaning though ultimately complicitous nurse. And then he is and it's sad.

And that's where I stop reading.

Did I mention the whole thing's wrapped around a "clever" bounce between the present and the past, brought on by the old guy's growing senility? And that it's a major-minor family-falling apart drama playing-out? It's possible that Essex County will redeem itself and be good or pretty good--which is all it takes for a "graphic novel" to get lots of press--but that's sort of the problem. Once Book One ends, the "smart, indie comic" gears start grinding a little too hard. I'll blame Chris Ware.

That condescending form of sympathy, all stemming from some juvenile sense that "the world's so terrible" then manifested in well-worn scenes of failure and regret...all funneling down to a nursing home. And I focus on the nursing home advisedly--because it's just sort of accepted as tragic and unfortunate, much the same way old age is dealt with in the comic (dead-pan, straight-ahead panels of wrinkled lips and sad eyes), like, there's not even the need for Lemire to render the details of old age or the nursing home well or creatively--simply showing it should be enough. This, coupled with Lemire's use--literally--of senility as a clever plot device undermines any and nearly all of the well-wrought sympathy in other aspects of the book.

While this sits in boutique comics shop at thirty dollars, I'd suggest digging-up a copy of Rob Osborne's Sunset City. It's usually sitting in the dollar bin or the 50% off trade bin, but it deserves much better, and touches on much of the same pathos as Lemire's book.


Samax said...

i've had trouble getting invested in the sad-sack indie comics, probably for the reasons you address here.

TheJLD said...

I suggest you finish reading the book before casting your judgements.

I figured I was in for melodramaville too when starting on Lou Lebeuf's journey but by the end of it, I was certain that Lemire was a master craftsmen of his medium. I also did not interpret the Nursing Home as the ultimate SAD defeat, but more as the self-aware last chapter of Lou's life... which is a sad, sad tale of regret and self-pity. Makes much more sense in context.

Please, just keep reading!


brandon said...

I finished the book, it was sort of a rhetorical "and that's when I stop reading". There's certainly a sense that being in a nursing home is the final, ultimately shitty thing in a life of shit/regret and it's just a little played-out.

It's loaded with context before you even begin the book though, and that's my problem with it.