By Alabaster Pizzo and Kaeleigh Forsyth
Published by Retrofit/Big Planet
For its solicitation of Hellbound Lifestyle, the folks at Retrofit comics write, “Kaeleigh Forsyth wryly observed and recorded the weird moment of her life in private notes on her phone, and now her friend Alabaster Pizzo has illustrated these secret thoughts in hilarious detail.” This, in a nutshell, is the basis of this 72-page book in terms of details. What it leaves out, though, is how perfectly Forsyth and Pizzo have touched the zeitgeist of these last couple of years in the digital age — specifically the ubiquity of the turmoil wrought in the battle between self-consciousness and social media personhood.
From her conversations with her roommate, Gerald (“We should start making each other’s sandwiches with fresh vegetables”), to her trip to Sweden, to her ground rules regarding her funeral (“Body shots off me if corpse is okay”), to her edit test for Sunnie Luvies™ sunglasses (“I publicly wept all day but no one knew, thanks to my #SunnieLuvies”), everything Forsyth captures in her notes hinges on that strange place between what is funny and what is incredibly sad.
There’s a whole series of panels wherein Forsyth deals with the emotional chaos of getting “likes” on an Instagram post and how it interacts with her own values and sense of self-worth. It is both simultaneously hysterical and brutal, forcing the question regarding how much of your interactions on social media defines your value to yourself and what the implications of this are on your own emotional well-being.
Exacerbating this collision between humor and tragedy is Alabaster Pizzo’s brightly colored pages in which she disconnects Forsyth and all the characters herein into oval-headed caricatures with wiggly arms and noseless faces. Much has been made of the process of abstraction pushing towards the universal, and through this act the reader can’t help but see their own face in these pages. Comparing Pizzo’s work in Hellbound Lifestyle with her art in Mimi and the Wolves, for example, you can’t help but see this choice as intentional. The universality of the abstraction gives this book so much of its emotional weight, something which would have certainly be undermined had Pizzo chosen a more concrete style.
Two particular vignettes in Hellbound Lifestyle really stood out in comparison to the personal nature of the rest of the book. The first is “A Day in the Life of Hemingway’s Wife(s)” which reframes the masculine conception of “genius” into its self-important and destructive reality. The other is a bonkers New Year’s e-greeting about being “holed up in the Adirondacks with [her] spiritual advisor, Toven” that is both vicious in its satire and despairing in its plea from a fragile state of isolation.
Forsyth and Pizzo’s Hellbound Lifestyle is absolutely a book of its time and works on so many different levels so as to, perhaps, become a classic in perpetuity.
— Daniel Elkin
By Kevin Budnik
While Kevin Budnik made his mark on the comics scene with a collection of daily diary comics that I once described at a mix between James Kochalka and Jeffrey Brown, his style has become very much his own in the last few years, and even the diary comics he releases through Patreon have a general theme to them beyond simply the events of the day. Budnik’s latest work, Handbook, was successfully funded via Kickstarter this year and debuted at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo. Budnik describes Handbook best, calling it “[a juxtaposition of] writings and experiences from his time in therapy for anxiety and disordered eating with the reality of his life in 2014, post-recovery.”
In Handbook, Budnik oscillates between his post-recovery and treatment days, often within the same four-panel page, condensing the wisdom it can take years to amass into the space between two panels. And those panels; they are so often incredibly detailed without ever feeling overwrought. Budnik doesn’t need to draw the intricacies of an espresso machine or sketch the wood grain for the counter it rests on, for instance, but having those details lends a realism to his honed simplicity that uses just a few lines of detail in the hair and a pair of dots for eyes on most characters.
Perhaps what appeals to me most about Handbook is that it feels honest. In compiling a book like this, a cartoonist has choices about what to include, and Budnik is perhaps his harshest critic, including events that he believes led to his problems with anxiety and disordered eating, some less-than-admirable behavior before and during recovery, and panels that show that while he has learned how to deal with those problems, it didn’t magically make him into this golden model of humanity.
By the end of Handbook, what Budnik says early on becomes clearer: recovery is a process. It’s a process of coming to terms with your past self and working to be better to yourself and your body than you once were. I found myself recognizing Budnik’s anxious behaviors, his desire for routine, his desires both for solitude and friendship. I found myself recognizing that my personal issues with body image may not be that unusual and that there are paths toward contentment.
Disclosure: I consider Kevin Budnik a friend and have supported many of his comics projects. I liked him as a cartoonist first, though, and I think you will too.
DARK PANTS #3
By Matt MacFarland
Matt MacFarland has recently released the latest in his Dark Pants series, and this one is both the longest yet (64 pages) and the most challenging to parse. What has been up to now a pretty straightforward series regarding sexual awakening (via the “mysterious dark pants” referenced in the title), issue three takes a more nuanced and, perhaps, personal turn.
Set in Silverlake, CA in 1988, Dark Pants #3 focuses on Phil, a young man confused by his sexuality. What appears to be his awakening to his own homosexuality is confounded by his attraction to a girl in his class, as well as the social environment of his time which associated things “gay” with deviant and wrong and something of which to be ashamed.
In execution, Dark Pants #3 mirrors Phil’s turmoil. The reader has to puzzle through the narrative in order to pick up what McFarland is creating here. There is a subtlety to this book that requires inference to resolve and, even at the end, nothing is clear cut. It’s almost as if MacFarland is allowing the biases of the reader to dictate the ultimate message of this book, making for a spectacular exercise in reader response analysis.
With Dark Pants #3, Matt MacFarland demonstrates his continued growth not only as a storyteller but also as an artist. His cartooning is getting tighter, especially in terms of his background work and the decisions he makes as to when to use the focusing power of negative space. His sense of timing in terms of layouts and panel construction have really begun to show his understanding of how comics work. And his thick ink brushwork is steady without being strained.
Dark Pants #3 reflects much of a time gone by, but in doing so, still speaks to these issues as they operate today. In the end, it is, perhaps, a story of a journey towards self-acceptance, and in that, given the recent tragedies and celebrations, becomes a message that needs to be heard louder and louder.
— Daniel Elkin