Fifth ‘Li’l Depressed Boy’ Shows Rather Than Tells

The Li’l Depress Boy is one of the finest comics on stands currently. That should give you an idea of where this review is going. There’s no use in hiding behind the 750-plus words you’re about to read. It is not perfect (not much is), but the comic gives you the emotional satisfaction you crave without ever approaching emo. Each issue is a 22-page letter to the heart of popular culture and our unbreakable connection to it. It’s a shared experience, one that goes beyond the bounds of a paper comic. It’s attached to the relationships we develop, especially when the reality and perspective of which don’t match.

Ever get kind of dumped (but not really)? Better yet. Ever have your heart broken just when you thought life was finally going your way? If so, then you’ll be sympathetic to the plight of our formless hero, Li’l Depressed Boy.

Jazz broke his heart. He thought they were boyfriend/girlfriend or close to it. Then she dropped the bombshell: she already has a boyfriend.

Let that sink in. The flirting, the hanging out, the kiss… she’s Summer Finn from (500) Days of Summer. What do you do in the aftermath of heartbreak?

For the second arc of The Li’l Depressed Boy’s Image Comics run, it’s time for a road trip. Writer S. Steven Struble and artist Sina Grace have dealt with LDB’s relationship challenged present, now it’s time to work through the recovery. Their plan is to take our hero even further out of his comfort zone and have an open road adventure.

Best bud Drew shows up, senses something’s amiss and convinces LDB to join him on a trip to see the band Andrew Jackson Jihad in Oklahoma City.

As has been the case with previous issues, The Li’l Depressed Boy uses music to form an emotional foundation. The title for this issue — “History of a Boring Town”, as in the Less Than Jake song — speaks volumes of where the story is, and where it’s going.

Comics don’t have a soundtrack, yet Struble and Grace are doing their best to provide one. As they did with Kepi Ghoulie, The Like and even Sleater-Kinney, they’re using the style and compositions of various musicians to score their comic. This is not a substitution for natural emotional growth within the pages, but rather that extra layer that crosses literary dimensions to create a fully rounded experience. 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. Style and tone can go a long way in telling your story. With comics, aesthetic qualities combined with sharp dialogue are the driving force. Even the absence of dialogue can do more to get an emotional point across.

Twenty two panels of The Li’l Depress Boy have no dialogue and no panels in the comic have captions, yet the understanding of LDB’s state is immediately clear. Many writers and creators are very good at this. Not the point. The point is that not enough do. Maybe it’s lack of faith in their script or their artistic partners? Whatever the case, Struble and Grace do the “show don’t tell” thing very well.

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.

The Li’l Depressed Boy is charming and infectious. The first four issues especially so. Issue five does feels like it’s somewhat idling. Fair enough. It’s a set-up issue for this story arc, and perhaps the idling is a consequence of that, but the closing pages and climax to this issue should make you desperate to read the next issue. And that trumps any criticism that can be leveled at the comic.

RATING 7 / 10