Table For One

[17 March 2004]

By Nicola A. Menzie

 

My work done my way. A private, personal, selfish, egotistical motivation. That’s the only way I function. That’s all I am.
— Howard Roark, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead

Reading The Fountainhead can have a deep impact on your way of thinking and general approach to life. If you’re unfamiliar with the novel, it was written in 1943 by Objectivist Ayn Rand, about a young architect named Howard Roark who refuses to conform to societal expectations. Instead, he follows Shakespeare’s advice of “to thine ownself be true” to a “T” and is a true idealist. He works for everything he has, tries to appease no one but himself.

Table For One is Bosch Fawstin’s attempt at emulating The Fountainhead. Fawstin’s self-published title is about a too-cute young writer named Will Howland who’s temporarily waiting tables at his crooked and insanely over-weight uncle’s Italian restaurant in downtown New York. He’s won a bet with Uncle Ritchie that he couldn’t last a year, and is expecting the $5,000 pay-out, which he plans on using to publish his book. The entire story takes place in the Sotto Terra Ristorante, and among a variety of mostly shallow, contemptible characters (minus a few redeemable types), Will shines through as the idealist, the individualist who exudes confidence because he knows who he is, what he wants and how to get it.

About halfway through his last day at the restaurant, and more than halfway through the story, a mysterious former love interest named Venna arrives out of nowhere, and just in time to save Will’s life. Venna and Will have a heated tête-à-tête about their split. She wants him back, claiming she is no longer the same person. As she puts it, “I’m not that girl who played it dangerously safe in life and in art. Most of the ‘beliefs’ I’ve held have turned out to be convenient illusions. I’ve learned to see things as they are. I see you as you are”.

This is just before Ritchie, who has apparently been hitting the bottle too hard, goes crazy at a staff meeting threatening everyone left and right about their jobs, which, as he describes it, require abandoning any idea of self and their souls. For Will, of course, this is the last straw, and he says he’s had enough and demands the money that he’s not only won fair and square, but has actually earned. It all boils down to a physical confrontation, and just as it seems Ritchie is going to literally choke the life from Will, Venna shows up holding the gun Ritchie had conveniently placed on his desk minutes before. Ritchie overpowers her, causing Will to go ballistic and beat the hell out of his uncle. He grabs the money from his uncle’s pocket, and takes exactly what he’s owed and not a penny more. He and Venna walk off into the starry night, hand in hand, and seal their rejuvenated relationship with a kiss. The End.

You know how after going to the theater to check out a really hyped-up flick, and after sitting through it, your only reaction is “So what?” That’s how I felt after reading Table For One. Yeah, the hero’s great, but nothing happens to him except a fist fight with his crazy uncle to get his money. There was no challenge, no external or internal struggle of consequence—the hero Will Howland is perfect from beginning to end. If the story’s about the individual’s struggle to remain true to himself even when “…in a crowded room, there’s not a soul in sight”, shouldn’t the individual undergo some kind of test?

It would have been better if there had been some sort of substantial challenge for Will. Will needs to be faced with a major decision. Will he conform or stand by his convictions? Something should happen, there should be conflict, a test for the protagonist. If there was, there would be a reason for readers to be interested, to invest their time in this story. With Table For One, this reason does not exist.

As for the artwork, it’s not the best, but I will say that the sequential movement is rather smooth. And though black and white may sound like boring, static colors to some, avid comic readers know what kind of amazing varieties can be wrought from the two under the hand of a deft artist. Table For One offered little variety in that respect. Everything was either black, white or grey, which gave the artwork a flat appearance. To make matters worse, there are way too many pages where the panels have no kind of real background, as if the story’s taking place in some void. The panel layout isn’t so original either, though there are a few successful attempts at breaking convention.

Overall, Table For One is an ambitious body of work that could have been great had the story been better developed and more risks had been taken with the artwork. I admire Fawstin’s go-getter attitude with self-publishing this title, and it’s quite obvious that he’s a practitioner of Rand’s philosophy. I just hope that his next graphic novel has a tighter and more realistic story, with a protagonist that isn’t so perfect. Even Howard Roark had his moments of weakness.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/table-for-one/