Writer/Artist: Jordan Crane
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Comic books such as Jordan Crane’s Uptight tend to frustrate as well as entertain me. I have to pass over a certain page or panel a few times to get the full meaning of it, even though the format screams simplicity. However, frustration is a signal that I am feeling the emotions Crane is trying to portray in his work. Nothing is as simple as it looks in Uptight, as every panel causes you to think and examine many of your own beliefs and functions. Like similar avant-garde presentations, Crane utilizes the comic book medium to give added meaning to realistic portrayals of life. This is not DC or Marvel spoon-feeding you the significance of an overt action by Superman or Spider-Man. Rather, like a Robert Bresson film, we reach meaning through fine adjustments of the medium and the characters interacting within that medium. As foretold by the title of the series, we are witnessing main characters that are uptight about certain aspects within their worlds. In the first story, "Below the Shade of Night," a teenaged boy with typical rebellion issues doesn’t like having the ways of the world dictated to him (sounds familiar to all us post-adolescents, huh?). The second story, a chapter of "Keeping Two," features a man controlled by superstitions derived from childhood, until those superstitions hinder his modern life. Compelling stuff, but trust me on this, faithful readers: you are going to have to work to enjoy Crane’s Uptight, despite the simplistic look of the issue. However, the work is well worth it, as readers will uncover two uncomparably affecting tales that center on anxiety, fear, regret, alienation, and love.
To get a feel for the first story, readers need only look at the third page, which illustrates the nameless teenage character perfectly. The first panel presents the typical teenage rebellious pose: frown all over his face, hands in his pockets, and body facing away from any authority figure, in this case his mother and father. Also, the short answer he gives his mother in response to questions about his state are appropriately adolescent. The next panel shows his mother smacking the teenager upside the head for apparently breaking her rule of not riding motorcycles. Next, the teenage boy steals a replacement part for a motorcycle from a shop. Then, he attempts to give this stolen part to his friend, who he angered on the previous page for wrecking his bike and breaking his shifter. Even though his face is still contorted into the normal teenage frown, he is looking to be accepted once again by his friend, who denies his attempts at reconciliation. In the next panel, the teenager’s reaction is to simply throw the stolen shifter away, rather than attempt any further avenues of connection with his friend. Finally, the last panel shows the still angry young man sitting on a couch watching TV, one sock halfway on a foot and junk strewn around him. His younger brother tries to talk to him about how his behavior is affecting their parents’ relationship, but the teenager doesn’t even bother acknowledging the boy. Throughout, this story jumps from point to point in this teenager’s life without the clearly connecting threads we see in most super-hero comics. Why? Well, Crane is depicting real life through sequential art, and real life is recalled in snippets rather than a clean line of progression. Life is not neat and orderly and the occurrences of a life often are not dictated by cause and effect. Super-hero comics must be written with cause and effect in mind, or they would cease to be entertaining, which is the main goal. Crane’s main goal in both tales is to depict life in the comic book form, including the banality and ugliness that are normally absent from traditional forms of entertainment.
The second tale, which I understand will be a continuing segment in this comic series, deals more with the inner workings of an adult’s mind and how superstitions are created. Here, the entire story takes place as the nameless man is cleaning dishes, the ultimate in mundane chores. The meat of this tale is told in his thoughts, whether through memories or fantasies about past or future events. It’s easy to distinguish the two because of the bordering on the panels happening currently and the lack of boundaries on the memories and fantasies. Could this be Crane’s subliminal suggestion of the positives and negatives of a mind’s freedom? Who knows, but it is an effective technique in separating the elements of the story. Also, this setup explains why this man has such a problem with phobias and superstitions. His life as an adult is stale and confining, without the excitement and freedom of the world that childhood will always possess. The theory that is the premise of the story, that people always seem to die in threes, is first presented from a child’s point of view, which introduces us to the element of spirits after the body dies. In the adult point of view, the spirits are seen as dashed outlines of the people or the dog (yes, dog) that used to inhabit that space before death. The man has not outgrown his childhood imagination, which is not normally a bad thing, but in this case has transformed itself from an interesting coincidence to an unassailable fact that causes him undue panic in the form of his wife’s visit to the video store. We have all thought about the "what ifs" in our lives, or worried about someone’s safety when apart. The ambiguity of this tale is that we silently chuckle at this man for the ridiculous nature of his superstitions while sympathizing with him due to our own fears and neuroses. Crane gets that we are the same people as the characters in his comics, and this is what makes his writing and art so emotionally affecting.
Is Uptight #1 for everyone? Heck no, especially for those looking for a light, fun experience in their comic book reading. Believe me, I’m not one of those snobs who thinks that all forms of entertainment should be personally rewarding. Aqua Teen Hunger Force is probably my favorite show! However, there are some instances when I read something that has such a powerful effect on me that I have to tell others about it. Uptight is one of those instances, and I challenge all comic fans to read this first issue and take time in exploring all of the little nuances which I haven’t mentioned here. If nothing else, it is well worth the $2.50 cover price.
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