Monday, 17 August 2015

Punk Rock and Trailer Parks by Derf Backderf Review

It’s the 1980s and punk’s heyday. Otto is a high school senior and a marching band nerd who lives and breathes Tolkien, lusting after the cheerleaders he’ll never have while getting beat up by the local bullies. Then one day he discovers punk at a local bar, The Bank, and Otto sees legendary performers first-hand like The Ramones and The Clash as well as lesser known artists like Klaus Nomi and Wendy O Williams. Otto’s life is about to change as punk music transforms this down-trodden trailer-park kid into… The Baron! 

Punk Rock and Trailer Parks is the weakest comic I’ve read by Derf Backderf which isn’t to say it’s bad as his others have been really good. My Friend Dahmer was a dark and powerful glimpse into the life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer while Trashed was an informative and entertaining look at the waste industry (the main characters of Trashed make a brief cameo in this comic too). Punk Rock and Trailer Parks isn’t really about anything at all except a fondness of punk music and a nostalgia for a time long past - not very gripping subject matter. 

That said, Otto is Backderf’s most memorable creation to date. He’s an eccentric loudmouth whose personality explodes off the page. At first he’s a bit off-putting – he records his farts on a tape-recorder for a senior project(?!) and he’s skulking about in the bushes outside his favourite cheerleader’s house trying to catch her topless – but he wins you over pretty quick with his indomitable positive outlook and demented charm. 

Otto’s bullied pretty harshly even though he’s had a growth spurt making him the tallest person in the school – his mentality of being the small, weak nerd keeps him from pushing back against the bullies. Slowly we see him gain confidence through his experiences at The Bank and it’s great to see. Punk is the music of the little guy fighting back and that’s mirrored in Otto’s journey here. 

Backderf throws a lot at this book but not much works too well. The comedy isn’t that funny – the crazy barking neighbour losing his rag over the Wonder Woman TV show, Otto’s Uncle Elmo driving his lawnmower to the bar and falling asleep on the way over – and the perviness of some of the scenes makes this feel like a cross between an indie movie and Porky’s. It did make me laugh a couple times though (the naked paper bag scene!). The maudlin incident at the end also doesn’t work. It comes out of nowhere and is wholly unconvincing – it’s an awkward gear-shift from baudy yuks to solemn drama. 

Punk Rock and Trailer Parks is a sometimes amusing comic with long stretches of mundanity. Otto’s a great character in an otherwise ordinary, meandering story. Check out Trashed or My Friend Dahmer to see this cartoonist’s better works.

Punk Rock and Trailer Parks

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