[29 April 2009]
PopMatters Features Editor
Recently dumped? Generally depressed? Slightly awkward when mingling during parties and other social gatherings? Prone to the occasional existential crisis? Look no further, fellow loners and misanthropes, because Lev Yilmaz has finally released his debut comic memoir Sunny Side Down, a book that promises readers comedic insight into the mind of a somewhat demented, struggling artist as he searches for a meaning to what otherwise seems a pointless human existence.
Popularized by his animated shorts called Tales of Mere Existence, Yilmaz has become somewhat of an icon to the perpetually frustrated, the heartbroken, and office workers who count down the hours before quitting time. Though he hasn’t posted any of his trademark animated shorts in some time, probably due to the drafting and release of his book, he has included some classic cartoons from his series Tales of Mere Existence in his new dark memoir, including “My Darling” and “I’m not going to think about her.”
Personally, reading Sunny Side Down, this reviewer began to wonder why the bookstore has a vibrant self-help section filled with casual browsers pretending to be interested in the adjacent biography shelf, but you never wander the aisles and discover a self-loathing section, one that would probably be tucked away in a dark corner, surrounded by sleepy-eyed goths. Because truth be told, there’s a real connection with Yilmaz’s comics and stories, especially if you’re a single semi-professional male searching for your place in the world, a connection not unlike the strong cult following of strange comics like Achewood by readers who have experienced problems with depression.
What’s wrong with embracing the futility of our existence for a change? What’s unhealthy about acknowledging the cyclical nature of our relationships, first falling in love, then bickering over video rentals for a few weeks, and finally, miserably calling it quits and starting the natural cycle of falling in love all over again?
Ironically, insight into this morbid, cyclical nature to our daily existences is exactly what Ylimaz offers readers, a window into our own self-doubt and insecurities by simply caricaturizing his own sense of futility as he drags his feet through life, kicking rocks out of unconditional frustration, continuing to over-analyze his fluctuating moods and the almost mechanical world around him, merely existing.
In fact, there’s something distinctly therapeutic about the way in which he reveals his somewhat mediocre stages of growth, stages which include: birth, school, college, adulthood, love, and whatever comes next. As though contemplating giving up the story out of sheer pointlessness, you can hear his monotone voice narrating as you read about the mediocrity of our human existence. For example, halfway through his book, he begins chapter three (I sort of became an adult) with the following note:
You probably have noticed that so far there has been something of a narrative in this book. You will also probably notice that from here, the narrative kind of stops. There’s a perfectly logical reason for this: When I was growing up, it usually felt like I was following some kind of movie script, and I thought that something dramatic and important was coming. I thought something was going to happen. Then when I reached adulthood, I found out nothing did.
To be honest, Yilmaz’s Sunny Side Down definitely won’t help readers improve their self-confidence or enhance their positive outlook, but the book does promise to acknowledge our dark moments by means of lighthearted cartoons, which is quite refreshing in my humble opinion.
Just turn to the page detailing Lev Land Bemusement Park, and bask in his absurd self-loathing. Consider taking a ride on “the shitty job merry go round,” where you remained seated at your desk as the world passes you by. Or perhaps the “I coulda been ... ” House of Mirrors is more your game, where you look into the mirror only to see the perfect self-image reflected back at you, suited in Armani, cool as a mod, sophisticated, smoking a cigarette, yet as healthy as an Olympic athlete, confident, self-assured, smiling back at you.
Of course, no one is so ill-equipped to deal with the world on such a level that Yilmaz portrays, but still, there’s truth in his comics, for we each piss and moan and complain and think woeful, self-indulgent thoughts more often than we would probably care to admit. That said, you can flip through Sunny Side Down and have a chuckle about the way you acted around girls in primary school and identify with Yilmaz by means of the stereotypically creepy, alcoholic professor whose class you both endured in college—he’s detailed all those pesky, nagging experiences that show us about as much of life’s meaning as an empty shoebox.
Obviously, Sunny Side Down isn’t going to change the world, but its comics are riveting and morbid in the best way possible. This is pessimism at its peak. It’s a glass of soothing vodka with ice after eight painfully slow hours at the office, the glass being half-empty mind you. And perhaps it’s even the kind of book a misunderstood youth finds buried underneath the mess of trash novels in a thrift store, buys for a few bucks, and completely revolutionizes his or her outlook.
One thing’s for certain: life ain’t no joke, and Yilmaz is hardly joking. He may satirize the unspectacular, unpaved path to self-discovery, but in the end, his comic memoir Sunny Side Down turns out to be more a guidebook for the alienated and socially inept than a simple comic strip about existential crises. Kafka, Nietzsche, Sartre, eat your hearts out.
Checkout Lev Yilmaz and his animated shorts here.