Being a critic is kind of like writing an autobiography. It’s an arrogant act to say, Listen to meeeee, for what I say is important!
The thing is, what I say isn’t all that important. I’m not going to be in the majority on this one, and I doubt that many people will care about my opinion one way or the other in the grand scheme of things. This particular comic has been praised by lots of big names and it’s liked by lots of people, and their voices have more impact than mine, and….I’m fine with that, actually.
I’m explaining that not because it’s suddenly all humility hour here at HU (are you kidding?), but because situating myself in the reality of my impact and the smallness of my perspective’s importance is the first step in analyzing The Years Have Pants.
See, the comic is about Alec, Eddie’s self-insert, and as far as I can tell, Alec doesn’t get that the world is not about him or that other people’s entire existence isn’t there just to prop up his journey of self-discovery and truthiness seeking.
It’s a recurring theme, that Alec’s view of the world is some kind of truth, and that his buddy-at-the-bar bullshitting is a glimpse into…well, art, beauty, truth, humanity, love, whatever.
And sometimes after a lot of beer you can see things with a mystical clarity. Like the shortsighted man putting on glasses for the first time. (Alec was always getting on the wrong bus.)
p. 12, panel 3
Seriously? No, wait, seriously? Truth is at the bottom of a beer glass. Wow, deeeeeep, man.
So, Alec goes on some more about the hot chick in the bar, right?
She’s living in the here and now. No ‘buts’ or ‘if onlys’, or save the cash in case better comes. Of course, I’m projecting my own ideals onto her… [VM: Ya think?]
And Danny replies:
doesn’t lessen what you’re saying.
Yes, yes, it does. This woman in the bar has nothing to do with Alec. She’s a completely different person with her own ideas, thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Maybe she’s just come into a lot of money and is celebrating her grandmother’s death by playing the darts her grandfather loved. Maybe she just got a job promotion. Maybe she just got a job demotion. Maybe she doesn’t have a job. Maybe she’s just sold plasma for beer and peanut money. Maybe she’s wealthy but likes to dress on the cheap. Maybe she’s actually a parakeet in disguise. Who knows?
But Alec clearly doesn’t. (He does go on to say, “Maybe she’s just in love,” but that doesn’t stop my point, which is that the only thing that matters to Alec and Danny in this situation is their own ideas, not the woman herself, and Danny even says, “Same results.”)
The whole comic uses walk-on players who exist primarily for Alec to react to or who function to prop him up. They never seem to be their own people, with their own existence.
Yes, this is an autobiography, but the form does not require bit players without motivation and without checks and balances outside the main character. For instance, anyone who follows personal blogs for a while will begin to know the people in that person’s life, the way we know characters in a sitcom or a soap. Finding out about those others, the children, bosses, relatives, pets, becomes its own end at times. That never seems to happen here.
Which is fine, it’s Eddie’s comic.
But it does add to the solipsistic flavor.
And so what next?
Typical boozing with dashes of relationship shenanigans and poetry readings.
It’s just really boring. Some of the lines are old recycled jokes. “Is that a bottle in front of me or a frontal lobotomy?” Ba dump bump. [panel 2, page 70]
Gosh, that’s art.
I want to be clear. I didn’t hate this comic. I just found it boring and irritating, like a blowhard at a bar who won’t shut up, and I wished I could signal a friend with my eyes to get me the hell out of there or that I could excuse myself to go pee and just never return. To say that I hated it would be to give the comic too much credit–it never stirred that much emotion.
It reminded me of the many autobiographies I’ve heard in cafes and coffeeshops, from artist types who moan about how painful the creation of art is, who bitch about having to work for a living, and who name-drop the hot in-crowd artist in order to make themselves look good, and whose primary interest in life appears to be a) beer/pot/whiskey and b) sordid sexual dramas of various kinds.
These artist types are sometimes writers, sometimes painters, sometimes illustrators, sometimes poets, often otherwise interesting people but who I end up fleeing because life is too short to hear one more “and then I got drunk and we talked about Jackson Pollack/Barthes/Jori Graham and the Meaning of Art and fucked and it was all really sordid/deep/meaningful/listen to meeeee” story.
Yeah, I’ve heard all that before.
Sure, there lots of stories out there where someone has a monomania and tells their story about it and their life. Julie and Julia was pretty good, as movies go, and it had many of the same elements (art, boring/painful day jobs, meaning, sexual fooling around, a famous person as granting importance, painful self interest), so I’m not against such autobios as such, and I was looking forward to this one, but it’s just not very good. (Yes, this is an evaluative statement, but that’s what I’m getting non-paid for.) If I’m going to spend an afternoon reading a new autobio, it doesn’t need to be about a specific topic (comics, art, knitting, food, whatever), it just has to hold my damn interest.
But look, here’s p. 147.
Back when the VM was a wee tot, her college boyfriend xeroxed himself in the back of the library as a lark, because it was 2 am and he’d been studying for twenty-three hours and he had a dime so why not. Drunk employees do this at corporate Christmas parties. I’ve seen it on internet memes. People, I have seen as much xeroxed pubic hair as I want to see, OK? I do not need to see any more. No. REALLY.
It doesn’t make me think of mythic beasts, it just makes me grab a wet wipe every time I fix the copier.
I find most of the comic is this way–what could be an interesting anecdote is sapped of its meaning by shallow treatment or fart jokes or rehashing a cliche. I don’t already care about Alec/Edie, he needs to make me care, but he never does. Getting boozed up and falling asleep at a turnpike….I mean, I know people like that already or I’ve read about them a bunch of times. Borrrrrring.
Anyone outside him, well. Those who could be likable additional characters don’t get enough screen time or throughlines to be particularly real. It’s as if, outside of Alec’s life, these people cease to exist.
I find the results both dull and claustrophobic.
I’m going to talk about one last, final short and then I’m done, I promise!, and we can go back to everyone else’s positive appreciation takes on the structure or meaning or what-have-you. (I suspect most people backbuttoned out long ago.)
Take a look. [p. 407]
This is a single-page short. It’s titled Flying Neil Gaiman In. If you don’t know who Gaiman is, this whole short will mean nothing.
We’ve got Alec/Eddie talking on the phone with a doctor who is performing a medical procedure with an un-named, unshown patient. Instead of paying attention to the medical procedure and the patient, the doc is gabbing on about snooty wines and Neil Gaiman with some comic artist.
And you know, that’s just kind of a crappy way to treat people.
Look. I don’t know what the medical procedure is, I don’t know if that’s a rectal thermometer or a speculum, but other people’s real-life bodies and thoughts are more important than fancy wines and name dropping. Their body is used as window dressing for Alec/Eddie to play status games about who’s the bigger wine judge and it’s just gross.
This is a particularly egregious example, and I don’t know whether it happened in real life or not. But if it did happen in real life, it was a crappy thing to draw and put into a comic book. I don’t need to see some poor schmuck’s bare legs and medical procedure in order to learn about Alec/Eddie’s nifty dinner partay and yet that’s how the whole comic feels, although mostly to a lesser degree (thank god). It’s confessional tales about Alec as the center of the universe, and the only existence other people appear to have is as setting for his life, no matter how minor a moment it might be for him and no matter how serious a matter it might be for them.
And you know, thanks, but I’ll pass.
If it moves you, it moves you, but I find it the dullest sort of self-confessional pulp, right down to the cat butt grass-dangly short (and isn’t everyone glad I didn’t write about that? I’m sure you are.)
I’m not saying this to harsh anyone’s squee. I’m saying it because it’s a roundtable. If this were in the wild, I’d have just slapped the book shut around page 10 and moved on to other things. But this is a roundtable and the point is to get a variety of views.
This is one of those times that it’s helpful to know one’s general might in the universe. I’m small, small potatoes and no one really cares what I think. I can go: pffffffft at the great pants book all day long and it won’t change a thing about its sales numbers or anything else. I’m not shifting minds here or creating new paradigms. I just think the book is boring. In two months or ten, no one is going to remember this. I’m not struggling with an Odyssean voyage, I’m just writing a blog post. Does that mean it was effortless? Hell no, this sucker took hours since I’m pretty sure it will piss off everyone. But you know, it’s still just a blog post about a comic, and I like that.
Consider it kind of an anti-hero’s journey.
Update: The entire roundtable on The Years Have Pants is here.