The story of boy meets girl is as old as the written word, even pre-dating it. It’s universal and a few other adjectives. It is also a very common subject for film, TV, books and even comics. So how does a new boy meet girl story separate itself from the pack? That’s easy: with charm and style.
Writer S. Steven Struble and artist Sina Grace’s The Li’l Depressed Boy is not a unique take on the romantic comedy. It sits somewhere between High Fidelity – both the book and movie – and Stranger Than Fiction– the movie that is a book. But it has unique elements that helps the narrative go beyond the offbeat and settle in a place that is relatable.
Li’l Depressed Boy (LDB) is our title character. He’s a ragdoll onto which we can place ourselves. He’s, for lack of a better word, depressed, affected by that generational stupor that has caused wanderlust amongst so many 20-somethings. He has his music and his cool indie band t-shirts. But he’s also disaffected by the trappings of modern life, though he indulges in them. He has a passive sense of rebellion beneath his nonchalance; an indifference that masks a desire for a real and authentic connection with someone. Enter the girl without a name, whose taste in music and fun make her the perfect match for our hero.
Casual observations of the last 60 years would suggest that LDB is a symbol of many generations. The beats in the 1950s; the hippies in the 1960s; the punks in the 1970s; the new wavers in the 1980s; the Generation X slackers in the 1990s: the rebellious youth who want something different for their lives than traditional society can offer. As with Li’l Depressed Boy, they are mostly identified by the music they love. Jazz, acid rock, punk, new wave, post-punk, grunge, emo, etc. These are the soundtracks of their lives. It’s the music that expresses their generational pain and longing. Expressing that in a comic takes skill. Comics don’t come with a soundtrack (though they should). There has to be feeling over sound.
With its dialogue, settings and artwork, Li’l Depressed Boy does that exceptionally well. You feel the lethargic anguish in the ragdoll protagonist. You also feel the nervousness when he meets the girl with no name and the joy at the success of their meeting.
The driving force is the artwork by Grace. His panels from page to page are wrought with so many different emotions. Not an easy task when your main character is a blank face ragdoll. How do you make something like that emote? Not only does it not have a face to easily convey feelings, but it’s also a static comic character. Ask any actor who has to perform in a face covering mask. Ask David Prowse or Hugo Weaving. Their only tools to portray emotions are their bodies and their voices. In a comic, it’s even more limiting, movement is at a premium. This is where Grace triumphs. He creates LDB’s emotions with body language and simplified facial expressions. Paired with the plot and dialogue, this is what gives Li’l Depressed Boy its heart.
Its origin as a Webcomic only adds to the mystic. At a time where the debate about creator owned comics’ place in the industry has been magnified by social media, it’s refreshing to see a company as established as Image Comics try to bring a creation like Li’l Depressed Boy to the mass market. Titles like this can have success; they just need the editorial and distribution support of publishers to find an audience. As a company, this is part of Image’s mission. As readers, we should be thankful for the diversity of genres within the medium. This creation of Struble and Grace is a good example of that.
Li’l Depressed Boy has the magic and allure of (500) Days of Summer – a point made in the solicitation for the comic. It’s a title that has all the charm to sell you on a series in one issue. LDB is you or someone you know. He embodies the hopes, frustrations and experiences of generations of 20-somethings. He’s Rob Gordon, He’s Harold Crick (after he’s taken leave from his IRS job), and he’s Tom Hansen. LDB is the metaphysical realization of saintly slacker-dom.
As a title that explores the boy meets girl story, Li’l Depressed Boy pulls off the cliché with style and charm. It doesn’t overwhelm, it’s doesn’t underwhelm, choosing instead to find that balance that satisfies and at the same time makes you want more. In some ways it’s the perfect vehicle to attract attention to its Webcomic roots. But let’s hope it continues as a print comic too. Li’l Depressed Boy has enough depression to spread around.