[11 April 2011]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
Are comics a reflection of our current lives or what we hope them to be? Can a comic thematically represent subculture? Can a comic be so authentically infused with the social rites of passage that you swear the creators were following you with a camera? Can a comic also have a kick-ass soundtrack? Can the answer to all these questions be “yes?” Through three issues, Image Comics The Li’l Depressed Boy is certainly providing that answer. But how is that “yes” truly defined?
When we first met our main characters, LDB and the girl now named Jaz, there was a certain amount of whimsy to their meeting. It was romantic in a very non-traditional way. The chance meeting, a dream so many of have had. It’s the basis for so many of our pop-culture artifacts. In film, the prime recent example is Before Sunrise – The visually stunning and only slightly pretentious ode to the slacker generation. The wanderers, the risk-takers, the romantics, the dreamers – they are who many of us aspire to be, if not in body and mind, then in spirit. It’s a shared cultural experience that crosses all geopolitical borders, letting us forget our prejudices and vices for just a moment.
But after that initial meeting, where does a story go? Our ragdoll hero is in for a ride, a confusing and awe inspiring ride. At every corner he’s faced with reality breaking his dream-like story; his cool nonchalance about to crack and expose his overt enthusiasm for the love of a cool chick. It’s a balancing act many of us have tried. How do we show attention yet still be cool?
With issues two and three, LDB continues his near passive pursuit of the girl. She’s driving the relationship; he’s just happy to be along for the ride. It’s nearly a stereotype of the too cool for sub-culture guys. The Rob Gordon’s of the world, who aspire to be the Lloyd Doblers, but can never quite pull off the insouciance cool. (Left on the table for another discussion is how did actor John Cusack come to represent these male types? And how did Nick Hornby and Cameron Crowe tap into the same cultural understanding many years and thousands of miles apart? Was one an influence on the other?)
These are the characters that let the music speak for them. Similarly, The Li’l Depressed Boy lets the music featured in each issue speak for the emotion and tone the creators are trying to convey. Comics don’t have a soundtrack (though they should), yet writer S. Steven Struble and artist Sina Grace are doing their best to provide one. If you read this comic and don’t check out the bands they feature, you’re missing the point. If you already know these bands, good for you and your understanding of the action. If you don’t, join the party.
What The Li’l Depressed Boy does the best is show that it doesn’t take long paragraphs of exposition to convey a point in a visual medium. The same is true of film, TV and comics. Style and tone can go a long way in telling your story. With comics, aesthetic qualities combined with sharp dialogue are the driving force. Struble is writing scripts from the heart, that’s obvious through three issues and especially true in the final pages of issue three.
LDB goes to Jaz’s birthday party and is immediately confronted by the awkwardness and isolation of hipsters. He’s an authentic enough guy, but when face to face with the strutting peacocks that are hipsters, he’s reduced to sitting in a corner clinging on to the genuine heartfelt gift for his lady love. It’s the high school outcast attending the popular kids’ party all over again. A social rite of passage we have all experienced personally and through numerous pop-culture artifacts. Conveying this point, Struble and Grace utilize 12 panels and seven words of dialogue. That’s strength in subtly, and a balanced confidence in the medium.
As with the previous issues, Grace continues to use thick pencil and ink lines. They are striking, yet restrained, focusing the action to the portion of the panel that he wants the reader’s focus. They are simple on first glance, but reflect a startling amount of complexity upon further inspection. Struble’s colors are just as focused, allowing the backgrounds to fade into the surroundings and not distract from the characters. The “color” of the comic (and life) is the people, and The Li’l Depressed Boy does this exceptionally well.
For all its perceived simplicities, The Li’l Depressed Boy is certainly stretching the medium beyond its boundaries. It is a multi-media experience. It is a sonic death monkey of style and tone that satisfies your mind, eyes and ears. It is an authentic and genuine experience and simultaneously a fantasy of the heart. Our ragdoll friend is us, a blank slate for us to cast ourselves upon. That’s an inviting proposition, instantly drawing us to the center of the matter. And what is that? Love and living sincerely. There’s the definition of our “yes” answer.