Bob's Comics Reviews December 1997 Arrows


Joe Matt: The Poor Bastard
It's hard to review Joe Matt's autobiographical comics without reviewing Joe Matt. Selfish, undirected, obsessed with fantasy images of unavailable women, he's pretty much a loser. Of course, how then does he manage to produce a readable, well-drawn, and decidedly non-self-glorifying comic book?

This volume, collecting six issues of Peepshow, details his pursuit of women. Actually, based on his behavior, women, meaing real live human beings, don't seem to be what he's after-- what he wants is a moving, fuckable centerfold. He starts out the book with a live-in girlfriend, Trish, but he does nothing but fight with her, and soon enough moves out, a fact which doesn't prevent him from blaming the breakup on her.

His attitude is perfectly summed up in a conversation with his best friend Seth days after a particularly dreadful kind-of-date-- one where it's been amply revealed that he and the girl don't like doing the same things, don't have the same interests, and don't laugh at the same jokes. "Maybe you should just forget about her. Sounds like you don't have much in common," advises the ever-sensible Seth. "Are you crazy? She's perfection!" exclaims Joe, and proceeds to list her purely physical qualities. Oh, Joe...

Joe seems to think that mere honesty covers a multitude of sins. His response to Trish's complaints is basically that she knows how he is and shouldn't expect anything different. ("You've gotta compromise!" "Why should I? I never ask or expect anything from you." Or: "I know I am [selfish]-- but you'd think after four years she'd learn and quit trying to change me!" ) Well, yes, honesty is the basis for a relationship, but it doesn't entitle you to a relationship.

As an approach to writing comics, however, it's not bad. The self-importance or pathos that gets tiring in so many autobiographical comics is entirely missing here-- Matt lets you laugh wholeheartedly at what a loser he is; and losers in art are endearing in part because they go ahead and make the same mistakes we do, or fear doing. Any guy can relate to Joe's thoughts and desires, from his lusting after his girlfriend's coworkers to his clammy panic in front of a new romantic interest to his efforts to squirm away from the bore next door.

Of course, what they ram into you in lit crit class is true: the author's voice is not the author, even if he's saying bad things about himself, or saying "bad" things about "himself", as the lit critters would put it. The truly immature don't show themselves that way in their self-portraits-- they show themselves as grandiose. The real Joe Matt has enough self-knowledge to create a comic portrait of himself. Maybe some of Seth's reality checks have sunk in a bit...

Timothy Piotrowski : Glitch
Twentysomething gay comix. Or, the gay Hate; take your choice.

The central characters are Joel and Simon, subsisting in the quasi-jobs legally required of persons in their 20s with an artistic temperament, and looking, in the serious, clueless, semi-desperate way legally required of persons in their 20s, for love. Gay love, as it happens, tho' there's nothing here, I think, that would cause straight guys to scrinch up their faces and start talking in deep voices about football. They're just guys, OK? Deal with it.

Piotrowski is on his way to a nice cartoony style, and his writing is good (tho' his spelling is terrible). On a re-reading, what I like best about it is the low-key humor, the humanity of the characters, and the background gags ("Spare change for a latte?"). The Pete Bagge comparisons thrown about in the letters column are mostly due to the style-- the same pipe-cleaner arms-- but that's superficial; the tone is lighter and less frenetic, and the characters aren't intended to be losers.

Problems? It could move faster. This is the bugaboo of autobiographical comics-- mistaking true-to-life for entertaining. Folks (this is a general announcement; Piotrowski actually does much better than most): learn ellipsis. Read Jaime. You don't have to re-create the whole damn conversation in comics.

Piotrowski explains that Glitch is a comic for gays who don't fit into "gay culture", or mainstream culture either; perhaps that's why it strikes me as highly accessible-- I mean, I admire Tom of Finland's art, but I don't seek it out, and I'd gladly read more Glitch.

By the way, if you saw the schedule or website for this year's Chicago lesbian & gay film festival, you've seen Piotrowski's (jeez, am I thankful for cut and paste) art-- he did the illos for it.

How to score 'em-- If your local comics shop is too shabby to stock Glitch, write to Tim at 4907 N. Glenwood 3A, Chicago IL 60640. An issue is $3.

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