Sunday, 29 December 2013

Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody Review (Mike Dawson)

Freddie & Me is Mike Dawson’s autobiography framed by his love of the rock band, Queen. Mike lived in England for a few years as a kid, fell in love with the music the first time he heard it, and then his parents moved the family to America where he’s lived since.

I’m a fan of Mike’s podcast, The Ink Panthers Show or TIPS, which he does with fellow cartoonist Alex Robinson (author of Box Office Poison among other comics) where they talk current affairs and funny stories from their lives, ironically with little in the way of comics talk - the show is genuinely funny and I highly recommend it. So I wanted to check out one of his comics as I’ve read some of Alex’s books already, and while I think Freddie & Me is a decent comic, I felt it was flawed mostly for its subject matter.

Simply put, Mike hasn’t lived an interesting enough life for it to be documented in such a lengthy comic. A 300 page book where the only thing of note is the author’s move from the UK to the USA while a kid, and then obsessing over Queen, is not enough to justify or sustain it. I know everyone thinks their lives are fascinating but mostly they’re not and Mike’s certainly isn’t. Honestly, it’s an ordinary life and without anything of particular note that makes it stand out from others.

Take for example, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the story of growing up in a funeral home, discovering she was gay, and that her father’s suicide was linked to his own homosexuality which was repressed. Or David Small’s Stitches, which is about the author’s fight against cancer at a young age and rendered speechless through multiple surgeries while his parents’ marriage crumbled around him. These are just a couple of comic book autobiographies that contain unique and fascinating stories that are worth reading about. Getting torn up about Freddie Mercury dying… it’s just not on the same level.  

And that’s really my biggest problem with it. Reading page after page where Mike’s ordinary moments get written about: breaking a neighbour kid’s toy and being yelled at by her father, bragging to friends about running away from home and living on the road a la Kerouac (and of course not doing following through with it), girl “problems”, and complaining about how music these days isn’t as good as when he was young. It got so utterly boring that I gave up at the 150 page mark and skimmed the rest - Mike grows up, still loves Queen, meets the woman he’ll eventually marry, and then meets George Michael in real life (he mocked his sister’s love of George Michael but as an adult grew to appreciate him as an artist in his own right).

There are some interesting digressions such as the format of memoir and how we remember things as snippets of events that we then build up stories around that probably aren’t accurate in how they actually happened. The discussions of memory in a memoir are thoughtful if somewhat rambling, and of course I love Queen’s music too and can relate to Mike’s appreciation of their albums and Freddie’s voice and showmanship.

But 300 pages, Mike! Man, this book seriously needed to be edited down! The book can be summarised thusly: Mike likes Queen, he had an untroubled childhood except for the transatlantic relocation that actually went quite smoothly, and then pursued his love of drawing into adulthood where he became a professional artist. There’s very little here that really needed 300 pages to tell which is why it feels frustratingly slow to read most of the time. Other indie cartoonists choose to write about the mundane minutiae of their lives, like Julia Wertz, but do so in original and more entertaining ways - Mike’s anecdotes are bland and flat for the most part, which is surprising given how funny he is on his podcast.

Mike’s a fine cartoonist who clearly understands the language of comics and knows how to put together a comic really well, but Freddie & Me isn’t a great comic. I think that he needs to tackle a subject more substantial and interesting in order to produce a book that would do justice to his talents. It’s definitely one of the weakest comic book memoirs I’ve ever read.

Freddie & Me

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