1.25.2012

Examining "The Sighing Man"

Blammo #7.5 (Self-Published by Noah Van Sciver): You could probably sub-title this issue “The Sighing Man” (a line taken from the book) and have some clue as to the core running theme. While this issue is a collection of previously run web-comics and various anthology strips, there’s a certain world-weary existential angst that pervades the work. If that description sounds pejorative, I apologize. It’s not meant to be. I think Van Sciver taps into an accurate vibe present in his generation. With the accelerated future we experience today, it’s not uncommon to feel these mid-life crisis rumblings in your 20’s.

If you pay attention to the arc of Noah’s career, it’s almost as if you can feel the energy behind this issue. With his graphic novel “The Hypo” coming out later this year from Fantagraphics (something I am totally stoked about, by the way), I think that Van Sciver is truly, finally, on this precipice, of really being appreciated for the talent he is. There’s tension in this moment before the big shift, and if this issue feels a bit hastily rushed out, I think that’s a viable explanation as to why. Everyone wants “the next book,” so Noah offers this as a bit of a placeholder until the big event, so that we don’t forget about him.

The print quality on the book, particularly the cover, is a little less refined than what we’re accustomed to. The content is solid though, ranging from an interpretation of a Japanese parable that sees karmic kindness rewarded, to his trademark portrayals of fellow traveler John Porcellino in some sort of bug-eyed, socially exhausted, near vegetative state (one of my favorite reurring crack-ups), all the while society’s perceptions of the cartoonist loom like vultures. Whether it’s dueling roommates, interpreting The Book of Mormon, or dressing up as a woman and being “sexually accosted” by drunken men (his words) on Halloween, the connective tissue in these shorts is Noah occupying space and then being perceived, judged, and sometimes persecuted by those around him. There’s a preoccupation with the world’s view of the cartoonist that seems to inform some of his autobiographical creative output.

Consciously or otherwise, Noah is examining his own liminal state, traversing the border between the fringe and the mainstream, the struggling artist and the commercial success, the kid envious of stardom and the man destined to feel guilty about his impending fame. It’s like Biggie said I guess, “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.” I’m spending a lot of time on the psychological underpinnings of this book and the relationship to what I’m sure will be his impending “break-out” book “The Hypo.” I’m not even telling you about how funny this issue of Blammo is. It’s funny! I always enjoy the strips that show Van Sciver tabling at conventions or doing in-store signings for the completely wrong demographic. They’re biting commentary about the seedy realities of this medium, along with all the hidden motivations and common archetypes that seem to inhabit it. Amid all the generic superheroics and bland storytelling, Noah’s broad noses, scraggly lines, and wobbly figures are a welcome sight. He’s not just regurgitating fleetingly nostalgic stories that are copies of copies of copies, but actually has something observational to say about the world around him and his own unique experiences. Grade A-.

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