4.17.2012

First it Was "The Death of Elijah Lovejoy," Now it's The Death of an Entire Genre

1999 (Retrofit Comics): You know what always makes me happy? New Noah Van Sciver Comics! For this feature length story, we meet Mark, a loser who drops out of school, lives with his mom, has a shitty job, no girl, no life, and basically no future. Van Sciver starts with the last 10% of the story and then rewinds hard to run us back through the first 90% to show us how Mark got to that point. The clever juxtaposition of this story is that Van Sciver sets the sordid tale against the backdrop of the year 1999, when the impending Y2K paranoia was at its peak. This deft move allows Van Sciver to perform the ultimate subversion of existential navel-gazing angst, by not only mocking that brand of self-absorbed vanity press, but by mocking our fascination with self-importance as a whole society. In the face of nihilistic attitudes about the apocalypse, and the death of everything from technology, to romance, and social graces, Van Sciver completely obliterates an entire stereotypical genre of self-published autobiographical mini-comics in the process. He does this with a great self-referential mirror, by creating a faux, a pseudo, a pretend autobiographical comic. It’s such a simple, smart, and effective artistic choice. I’m sure some members of the audience will wonder if Mark is a bit of a cipher character for the great Noah Van Sciver. I’d actually argue the opposite. I think this is a continuation of this phase of his career, which sees him moving away from his pure autobiographical roots. He’s moving toward straight biography (with the epic The Death of Elijah Lovejoy and the impending book The Hypo, chronicling the early adventures of Abe Lincoln) and into speculative fictional accounts of autobio-like figures, which gives him the freedom to explore a greater range of stories as a creator. I think he’s made the mental switch, recognizing that this step is necessary to ensure his career evolves beyond its point of origin. Getting back to the plot, Mark’s journey through meeting horny coworker Nora, and then losing her, displays the progression of how boredom ultimately leads to depression. Van Sciver brings his usual strong art skills to the story, full of emotive lines that are so used to capturing emotions on the negative end of the spectrum – exasperation, surprise, grief, anger, etc., but then does something else. There’s a playful sense of experimentation with background patterns used to emphasize mood, and one terrific example of an abstract Picasso-inspired dream sequence. At the end of the day, I’m just happy to see this creator continuing to push himself in new directions. I’ll keep pushing him too, so that one day when the movie is made about him (like Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor) or they adapt the HBO series about his foibles (like the unfortunately underwhelming HBO series Girls by Lena Dunham), I’ll just position myself as a “Noah Van Sciver Historian” (Coolest. Job Title. Ever.), say I knew him when, and try to ride his coattails to the stardom he deserves. ;-) Find more great books at nvansciver.wordpress.com and retrofitcomics.com. Grade A.

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