Sunday, June 06, 2021

A Complete Lowlife (2001)

Writer and illustrator Ed Brubaker has gone on to bigger things with DC Comics and Marvel since this interesting little indie project. Full disclosure, I don't know any of that but I picked up on this back then as a partisan of Harvey Pekar, R. Crumb, Joe Matt, and all their comics-as-autobiography followers. So this "complete" Lowlife amounts to a handful of stories that appeared across a series of five comic books with two publishers. They are plainly in the vein of Pekar—Brubaker acknowledges him in an introduction—telling true stories of youth, petty crime, boredom, drug use, and immature relationships. My poor old tired eyes had some problems with some of the tiny hand printing, but most of these stories were entertaining and full of pathos. The characters are the usual motley assortment of obsessive fan types, celebrating cool but kind of nerdy. There's a great anecdote in one story about a job he takes at a collectors' bookstore, where he learns about the trade, sees others ripping the owner off, and starts ripping him off too. He feels shame about it but is defensive too, and then his feelings are hurt when he learns the owner knew about it all the time and now scorns him. At one time I might have liked the girlfriend stories best but now they just make me sad. Brubaker's stories might suffer a little because he is withholding detail, but there's a pretty fine balance when it comes to lacerating self-confession. Brubaker has some reasonably ugly stories to tell about himself, but even across the space of this series, which started and ended in the '90s, he seems to have turned out all right. One thing you can't miss is that eventually he abandoned the memoir mode and went more or less directly to superheroes. He's won a lot of awards too so he must be pretty good. He's a writer now almost exclusively and his interests are in the noir style and hard-boiled detective fiction. Just in 2019 he won an Eisner Award for "Best Graphic Album – New" for a project called My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, which is apparently a rehab story. It's not that hard to see how he got there from here. But my heart is closer to here—closer to these obsessive semi-narcissistic nerds working out their personal problems as they grow up, more often than not ineptly. I think Brubaker is also a pretty good illustrator, though on the simple and primitive side. I can see why he chose to work with others later but I like the unadorned style of this whole project.

In case the library is closed due to pandemic.

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