You can become the hero of your own story. At least, that’s part of the lesson LDB learns in the pages of The Li’l Depressed Boy #13. The other part of the lesson is that the pursuit of happiness has its costs, its pitfalls, and can leave you wondering: can you save the world and get the girl?
Up until this point, all of LDB’s efforts (or in most cases, lack thereof) to get the girl have proven useless. The set-up to this issue and the events of this issue leads us to two points: The Li’l Depressed Boy fits neatly into an ideal of the narrative paradigm and that the objects of affection are not categorically defined by the brooding soulfulness of the lead protagonist. To simplify, this comic is a metaphor for going after what you desire told in an authentic and real way.
To look at The Li’l Depressed Boy in terms of the narrative paradigm, we must admit that the idea of a ragdoll hero is the idea of a neutral protagonist; someone who is singularly unique yet also everyone at the same time. It is the idea that the exploits of this ragdoll are probably and faithful to the vast experiences of many. They are authentic in that the passivity LDB has shown in pervious issues continues even as his odds of success improve.
The realities and challenges of life are depressing. They are constant reminders that we may interact with the world, but most of us do not have control over the circumstances. They happen to us. Our reactions are what make or break our spirit. LDB is often confronted by the challenges just when he thinks he has his romantic life figured out. With Jazz, he met the reality of her couple-hood with another suitor. With Spike (or Gertrude), he meets the reality of her being his boss. The truth and faithfulness of him being blind to the circumstances of his courtships are just as relevant as the probability of these relationships continual happening to him and us. His stories, and our stories, are in constant competition which is perhaps the main reason that LDB is a relatable protagonist – it is that narrative competition that allows us to connect with a lumpy sewn together bit of cloth.
That faithfulness to reality connects to the women LDB pursues. Many could see the traits of these love interests as fitting within the character trope of the manic pixie dream girl as defined by critic Nathan Rabin. They are “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creatures that exist solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries…” Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Natalie Portman in Garden State are good examples.
However, what Rabin accidentally discovered was not the misogynistic excess of pop culture – that has been well known for some time – but rather that the emotional arrested development of male heroes is just as relevant and equal to the women they pursue. If the manic pixie dream girl exists, she is the reflection of modern human desire to be youthfully exuberant in the face of the challenges of real life. That that understanding comes at the expense of underdeveloped female characters is telling of the patriarchal attitudes pervading movies, books and music.
What writer S. Steven Struble and artist Sina Grace create in The Li’l Depressed Boy are quirky female characters that on the surface coincide with this manic pixie dream girl trope, but they are as unique as any other character in the book. Jazz and Spike have their own personalities, their own desires, their own world views that at times sync up with the romantic desires of our hero.
He is seeking love and meaning. They are too. And in very real terms, they are both an interaction with the larger world as well as the circumstances that lead to the uncertainty so vexing to LDB.
Struble, for his part as narrative architect, bookends LDB’s troubles with a middle section that allows him to be the hero he wants to be. He fears he’ll strikeout with Spike, and after the kiss beautifully rendered across two pages by Grace, he fears the reality of having to keep their relationship secret. In between, LDB is able to find that perfect small gift for his lady love (a theme that has run through the book) and save his fellow co-workers from the evil popcorn machine. His triumphs lead to a hope that he can save the world and get the girl. The reality of which, unfortunately does not add up to an overall victory. These are the pitfalls with pursuing what you desire, and it’s a lesson LDB must learn time and time again.
We must too. That is what makes The Li’l Depressed Boy #13 such a complete comic. It works in terms of structure, it works in terms of probability to reality, it works in terms of character development, and it works in terms of visual aesthetic. It’s a ragdoll protagonist pursuing the relationship of his dreams, facing the harsh reality of a situation he never considered. And there’s a popcorn popper firing hot buttered shrapnel. You could simply not ask for more.