Saturday, August 04, 2007

It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken

I just finished reading "It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken" by Seth. Unfortunately, I passed off my copy too quickly, so can't quote to you choice lines, and I am doing the review from memory. But it's a graphic novel. It wouldn't be effective to parrot lines anyway, and I have an excellent memory.

I liked it a lot. But then again, I like slow-paced narratives where not much happens, but certain sentiments and thoughts are beautifully conveyed. While not as stylized and with less complicalted layouts than Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan (probably my favorite graphic novel), I found the artwork to have an evocative, melancholy beauty. I loved the the expressiveness achieved with the blue and gray scheme.

The novella is about a cartoonist's obsessive, years-long search for information about an obscure gag cartoonist from the 1950s named Kalo. Kalo had one cartoon for the New Yorker in 1951, and then appeared to drift off the map into even greater obscurity. The cartoonist character's name is Seth. Yes, I do believe that this might be autobiographical.

I didn't really identify with the narrator, but then again I'm not a depressed young male cartoonist with a pathological grip on the past, self-absorbed disaffection with the present, and extreme distrust of the future. Although I dig his hat and glasses and old school trenchcoat. It was interesting to read the self-psychoanalysis parts of the novella. Seth wonders about the obsessiveness of his investigation, and wonders why he cares so much about this obscure cartoonist--it's not Kalo's success, but rather his whimpering failure trailing into obscurity that fascinates him. Is there a story behind this slow decline? Is there ever a story worth telling about one who fails?

Perhaps it was because Seth is something of a failure himself. Seth fails at relationships (indeed, one of the best bits on the book is where Seth realizes that he either pushes women away until they leave him eventually, or else leaves the women quickly and brutally). Seth is not so successful as a cartoonist himself. Seth seems to fail at living in the modern world. His attachment to the past, his belief that things only get worse and so each moment in the past becomes more golden by comparison--well, that's not really succeeding at the present.

And yet, in spite of or because of all of this, I really enjoyed the novella. The artwork is indeed moodily evocative. And the book, while not exactly action-packed, and with a difficult-to-like central character is likeable as a whole. You go along with Seth for the journey, even though it doesn't take you anywhere of consequence. That is, after all, much of life. Some quests are fruitless. Many are pointless. But you still should try to look and search for something, for some truth in life. Most relationships are failures, and some are better left avoided--but you should still have them, because while there are worse things than being alone, positing lesser of two evil choices is never a way to go about life. And none of us fit in too well in this modern world--most people are too trapped in the past or too eager for the future. Some heroes are unsympathetic, mostly because they're too much like you--and not all of us are particularly heroic. Actually, very few are. Most of us are misfits.

But still, you go on. Life goes on. That's the ultimate quest, and wherever it leads--to deadends, to anti-climaxes--well, there you must go. Sometimes, you might surprise yourself. Sometimes, the journey is the quest. (okay, that was maudlin)

Next depressing "comic" novel to be reviewed: Allison Bechdel's "Fun Home."


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