Understatement is an art, and no comicbook on the market currently does that better than The Li’l Depressed Boy. The Web comic, turned ongoing Image series, plays with the fine mechanics of subtlety, creating an inspiringly authentic look at modern love and popular culture, and the recognition of this achievement deserves a more critical examination.
While the comic could be easily dismissed as the melancholy ramblings of a sad sack, that assessment would miss the core of what makes LDB a rag doll hero to the masses. He’s us. And the way he handles the various obstacles in his everyday life, is both a reflection of shared experience, and a testimony to the John Cusack generation. Issue eight of the series is a further continuation of that understanding. It builds upon a glum heritage LDB pays tribute to in each and every panel.
In 1984 Walter Fisher proposed what he called the narrative paradigm. Fisher believes that human narration allows us to make sense of the world around us. Moreover human narration communicate significant life experience in order to establish a common community. The narrative paradigm is what is happening now within historical context, not what will happen or what is dreamt of as happening. It is shared experience. It is common ground. As Fisher himself said, “The narrative paradigm insists that human communication should be viewed as historical as well as situational, as stories competing with other stories constituted by good reasons, as being rational when they satisfy the demands of narrative probability and narrative fidelity.”
In terms of popular culture, the probability of LDB’s exploits are confirmed by previous artifacts, especially if we compare him to the protagonists he’s undoubtedly inspired by like several of John Cusack’s roles in the last 23 years. Most effectively, we think of his turn as noble underachiever Lloyd Dobler. The coincidence of The Li’l Depressed Boy #1’s second printing cover is not lost. That image recreates the iconic radio blasting of “In Your Eyes” by Dobler – coincidentally, again, that scene is brought up again in this issue. (Bit of trivia, when Lloyd holds up the radio, it is actually playing a song by Fishbone. “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel was added in post-production after Cameron Crowe dismissed a song by The Smithereens.)
The connection between these events separated by eight issues certainly adds to the narrative fidelity of the comic, the faith garnered by a generation of righteous slackers looking for the exact things Dobler and LDB search for…meaning and love.
Issue eight opens with LDB and best pal Drew returning from their misadventures of going to see Andrew Jackson Jihad in Oklahoma. A breakfast stop allows the characters to recap briefly where we are and where the story is going, foreshadowing the eventual confrontation (or lack thereof) between LDB and his would-be love Jazz. Here again the narrative probability is enhanced by Drew’s name dropping Duckie Dale, Jon Cryer’s character from Pretty in Pink. This is another character that is a direct inspiration for our rag doll hero. That John Hughes artifact has had a lasting effect on pop insights, just as Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything has inspired the wistful intentions of many sub-culture heroes. The creators’ overt use of Duckie and Dobler (in this same scene no less) gives credence to their mission to infuse this creation with the long history of pop heroes.
Writer and The Li’l Depressed Boy creator S. Steven Struble in this issue perpetuates the idea that less is more. His script for issue eight, while littered with the tent poles of modern pop romance, does not bear down on the reader. The movement from scene to scene, situation to situation, moves with relative ease. The passivity of the scenes are actually what gives them power. They’re authentic (yes, we’ll refer to that several more times). They are reflective of LDB’s own relationship with the world and the people around him, especially when it comes to Jazz.
When LDB arrives home and has his “reunion” with Jazz, each and every one of us reading this book must be able to identify if not wholly recognizes the make-up of this scene. We’ve lived it – maybe not the broken door knob, but close. This is the power of The Li’l Depressed Boy. While the melancholy vague ramblings of a rag doll may sound like the dullest thing since who knows what, Struble’s script and breakdown of each scene is reliably genuine.
Artist collaborator Sina Grace does his best to execute the pencils in the framework of what Struble has in mind. No movement is wasted or squandered. The facial expressions and body postures all add credibility to the narrative rationality being achieved. The visual presentation is a fluid partner in the fidelity of this book.
Issue eight of The Li’l Depressed Boy is just another excellent chapter in this book’s run. Limitedly using Fisher’s narrative paradigm as a guide, we can see that much of this rag doll’s legacy is built upon the competition of other stories. Perhaps competition is the wrong word, as these previous artifacts of our culture infatuation with lovable underachievers are incorporated as tribute. Whatever the case, The Li’l Depressed Boy’s heritage and its own use of subtlety to authentically connect with its audience is what makes the comic a welcome addition to spinner racks each month.