Fair Trade Comics: Our Ever Improving Living RoomA comic review article by: David Fairbanks
Fair Trade Comics is an ongoing series where Comics Bulletin looks at creator-owned comics that you can read without guilt or moral compromise.
In light of all sorts of controversies, it's growing increasingly difficult to negotiate the morality of reading corporate superhero comics. But, if you can live with the fact that Batman will be nowhere to be found, there are other options to get your high adventure, lasers and punching. Have you thought about indie comics lately? Once upon a time, "indie comics" meant that you were likely reading something that was in black and white, idiosyncratic, and possibly autobiographical. That's just not true anymore. At this point "indie" just means anything that isn't a superhero comic published by Marvel or DC -- in other words, the actual vast majority of comics.
Of course, some of them are black and white and idiosyncratic and autobiographical; some are even self-published.
That last trait used to carry a stigma with it borne from the days of vanity presses, the idea that no publisher thought your work was worth printing. Thankfully, it's a stigma that is slowly being dispelled by the successes of independent cartoonists, many of whom have more in common with zine makers than with their corporate counterparts.
Kevin Budnik looks like he may just be a few years away from being a name said alongside Jeffrey Brown, John Porcellino, Liz Prince and the many other cartoonists who got their start hand-stapling their own minicomics.
I don't know what it is about autobiographical comics, but they managed to grab a hold of me a few years back and they haven't let me go. When done right, they're a look into the life of the cartoonist that shows you a glimpse of yourself. Someone took the time and effort to chronicle parts of their life in words and pictures because they felt they needed to share it, that they had a story to tell and maybe others could take something from it.
Like James Kochalka's American Elf, Budnik's Our Ever Improving Living Room began as a challenge to himself: create a daily journal comic for a year. And like Kochalka, Budnik seems to have nailed the right mixture of candor, humor and self-deprecation that make the best autobiographical comics.
He slices each day of his life up into four panels and serves it to the reader without fear, leaving us to take away our own interpretation.
Has death seriously been on his mind here, to the point that he's actually ruminating about his funeral, or is this more on par with Rob Gordon's "Songs at my Funeral"? It's probably more of the latter than the former, but I don't think you can really shake away the feeling that he's given the idea some thought, maybe a bit more than some of his readers have, at least.
Of course, it could also just stem from the irrefutable truth that Tom Waits' "Come On Up to the House" is a spectacularly beautiful song.
But that ambiguity is part of the point. Live your life, put it on the page, and hope that someone can take something from it, even if that something may be that it's a relief to know that someone else has a roommate that talks about their funeral songs.
It would be really easy to just look at that last panel and think that the party was cause for excitement; parties are supposed to be fun and he looks to be getting ready to get dressed up for it. But Budnik seeds a different story in the previous panels, one of disappointment in the previous year and a longing for the potential of the new year.
The party feels like an aside, acknowledging the social convention but possibly wanting to just get it over with.
Part of the joy of reading Budnik's comics comes from the fusion of Chicago cartoonists his work reminds me of. While the impetus for Our Ever Improving Living Room seems Kochalka-esque, the tone of Budnik's comics feels reminiscent of Jeffrey Brown, and he brings a style that looks like Anders Nilsen doing his best Paul Hornschemeier homage.
If you don't know those names, you should probably check them out. Brown, Nilsen and Hornschemeier have been carving a name for themselves in the independent comics scene for the past decade and it looks like Budnik is set chisel his name beside them any day now.
After finishing the year of comics, Budnik updated the blog with longer (though less frequent) strips, sketches and occasional poetry. He's currently taking a break from uploading comics to the blog to work on other projects and retrace his steps with his weekly strips, adding more to the story.
If you like what you've found, though, keep checking his blog. He may not be posting comics right now, but the blog is still updated with daily ruminations on his possessions in the form of a color illustration.
You can purchase the first six months of Our Ever Improving Living Room in print online from Budnik's Big Cartel page or at Chicago Comics. There's been mention of collecting the whole year for print at some point, hopefully soon, but for now you can check it all out for free online.
For more Fair Trade Comics, check out our other features in this series:
- Introducing Fair Trade Comics
- Fair Trade Comics: Atomic Robo
- Fair Trade Comics: Pussey!
- Fair Trade Comics: Our Ever Improving Living Room
- Fair Trade Comics: The Bulletproof Coffin
- Fair Trade Comics: Dracula World Order
- Fair Trade Comics: Local
- Fair Trade Comics: Liz Prince Will Swallow the Key to Your Heart
- Fair Trade Comics: Monsters
- Fair Trade Comics: Cow Boy
David Fairbanks doesn't get many things right the first time. He studied physics in college, loves science, music, comics, poetry, movies, books, and education pertaining to all of the above. He will talk your ear off about Grant Morrison and Ben Folds, has an indie bookshelf larger than his Marvel, DC and Vertigo ones combined and if he ever actually grows up, more than anything else, he wants to still be happy as an “adult,” whatever that is.