Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Spent by Joe Matt Review

Look at that cover. This book’s exactly that: a cartoonist wanking himself into oblivion, literally and figuratively - and it’s brilliant!

I loves the superhero comics but if it weren’t for great indie cartoonists like Joe Matt, I’d probably have left the medium behind years ago. When indie creators are as compelling and gifted as Joe Matt is, reading about an ordinary schmuck talking about his life in an empty room is vastly more exciting and gripping than seeing the Green and Red Lanterns fighting in space for the fate of eternity or whatever for the umpteenth bloody time!

But I get it, for some people superheroes are all they want from comics full stop and that’s fine. And really this kind of meditative and literal masturbation isn’t going to appeal to many either, but I adore the indies and for anyone else who does Joe Matt’s books are a must-read. 

I especially liked Spent because of Joe Matt’s friendship with fellow cartoonists Seth and Chester Brown, whose comics I also love and who both appear in this book. Joe and Seth go book-shopping and end up bickering over an obscure Canadian comic called Birdseye Center; later Joe, Seth and Chet meet up for lunch and Seth and Chet end up ribbing Joe’s cheapness.

It doesn’t sound like much but their interactions made this book for me. They’re clearly close friends and it’s great to catch these “behind the scenes” glimpses into their friendship to see what these creators are like (or at least Joe Matt’s version of them) though Seth and Chet do seem a bit mean to Joe too. 

But if Joe makes Seth and Chet look a bit bad, that’s nothing compared to how he mercilessly depicts himself here. He talks about his porn addiction, how he spends hours and hours editing porn tapes, the grotty rooming house he lives in, the jars he pees in so he doesn’t have to leave his room and head down to the bathroom he shares with several other tenants. 

At one point he even starts tearing apart his own books, critiquing his art style and admitting that the ending to The Poor Bastard was made up and the portrayal of his childhood in Fair Weather was completely false, despite both books being supposedly autobiographical. It’s fun to watch Joe beat himself up on the page though! 

All of it - the art, the writing, the insight, the self-deprecating humour, the voice in these pages - is wonderful and shows a perfect understanding of comics storytelling. He manages to give substance to the seemingly insubstantial which is remarkable. That’s why it’s sad that Spent is still his last book even though it was published in 2007 (his laziness is part of the pasting he gives himself too - the man’s nothing if not self-aware!).

Besides a handful of original pages for the 25th D&Q Anniversary book last year, Joe Matt’s only other comics contributions have been as an archivist of the Frank King Gasoline Alley strips from the early 20th century. He’s a collector of those strips and their republishing was made possible thanks to his hobby. It’s still a shame that a man of his talents isn’t doing anything with them but I guess he’s just fed up with making the effort and getting no money in return. 

Yeah, Joe Matt’s a gross, pathetic dude and not a terribly great person either but he’s got the guts to unflinchingly look at himself honestly, fearlessly revealing his flaws and publicly dissecting them to create a book that’s uniquely his own - and that’s quite something. He’s also a helluva cartoonist who manages to make a navel-gazing exercise hugely entertaining for the reader.

If you like indie comics and especially the kind Seth and Chester Brown produce, their compadre Joe Matt is every bit as fantastically skilled as they are and Spent is definitely worth checking out. Spend some time on this quality read!

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