February 9th, 2011
Being: the second of two short posts building up to a third, slightly more impressive one.
It’s no secret that Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic zine has its faults – my fellow Mindless Ones have talked about them a bit here and here already – but it seems to me that the short comic strips by comedian Josie Long exemplify the magazine at its worst.
Well, I say they’re comics, but they provide none of the pleasures that one associates with the medium, so they only really exist as an example of the “I know comics when I see them” nature of the form (Scott McCloud, consider yrself warned!):
The above excerpt comes from ‘Love’, the Josie Long strip that graced the first issue. In fairness, this is probably the worst comic Long has contributed to the magazine – her recent re-coloured, re-dialogued Ikea instruction diagrams reached the levels of mild amusement you’d find in the absent scribblings of a troubled friend. Whereas this comic, well, it’s a fifty panel pile-up of squished text and ever squishier faces. I almost feel like I should apologise for putting such horrible images and colours up on the Mindless Ones site, to be honest with you.
Anyway, leaving the horrible golden brown colour that dominates these pages aside for a moment, ‘Love’ is a straightforward rant comic with one extremely clumsy “interruption”. This tangent concerns Long’s encounter with a man on a bus who gives her advice and valium, and it runs down the left hand side of the first page and along the top of the second one with absolutely no regard for the reading experience. I’m not one to get fussy about loose, messy comics art or odd panel layouts – I wrote about my love of Brian Chippendale‘s comics in the Mindless Ones’ Prism zine, after all – but Long’s comic almost reads like a parody of the DIY, punk rock ethos rather than an exciting example of it (you’ve totally got to hover over that last link there – I can’t let that bit of “hidden” text go unread!). The problem isn’t just that the pages are actively unpleasant to look at, but that this unpleasantness isn’t exciting and doesn’t seem to serve any purpose – what Long is saying in this strip is only memorable because it seems so flailingly WRONG, both in intent and in execution. Like the images she draws here, Long’s words in this strip lack either punkish energy or puckish charm (compare and contrast with new addition to the Mindless Ones site Danny Noble, who’s A Year Without Cider has woozy beauty to spare!).
This is where The Problem With Dodgem Logic comes in. You see, at its worst, it seems like the contributors to that magazine are so impressed with themselves for making something that’s honest (to their experiences!), and which seems true (to them!), that they don’t seem to have worried about how they’re saying these things, how they’re presenting them, or whether the things they are saying are really interesting, or true, or even worthwhile.
(NOTE: Dodgem Logic certainly isn’t all bad–they print Steve Aylett‘s work sometimes, the production values have generally got better issue by issue, and Alan Moore’s a hugely admirable character–but it’s still a qualified failure/success at best, depending on how you want to look at it.)
Enough of that waffle though, since we’ve already dismissed it aesthetically, what’s the argument of this particular Josie Long comic? Well, it’s that relationships that aren’t 100% perfect aren’t all the time aren’t worth the hassle, and that if you’re living with such a relationship you’re letting your idea of your wonderfully troubled romance get in the way of your actual happiness.
This might sound like a facile reduction of what Long’s saying, especially based on the above excerpt. Surely Long’s only claiming that it’s easy to get so caught up in the idea of your romance that you don’t notice when the reality’s gone sour?
Well, that’s part of it, but Long goes further:
Maths isn’t my strong suit, and I’m not about to become a relationship advice columnist or anything, but I’m pretty sure that 80% right is still 80% right and that most good relationships still have several bad seconds/minutes/hours/days/weeks/months. Hell, they might even have bad years if they last long enough! Then again I secretly want to give a Steve Zissou style speech in which I apologise for not being at my best this past decade, so I have an obvious motive for saying this.
As ‘Love’ goes on it becomes obvious that what this breathless onslaught is actually all about Long’s new relationship, and the quiet, undramatic pleasure she has found with her current partner. Now if I wanted to be needlessly petty and cruel I could write a bit about how the rhetoric of this strip (“the very small seems very significant”) is the kind used by people who are trapped in boring relationship and want to pretend otherwise. If I wanted to be kind I could claim that the strip is actually a lot more artful than I’ve made it sound, that its naivety is intentional, and that we’re supposed to see past the “message” of the strip and understand that this is just another story in the end. Sadly, I think that to do either of these things would be to put more effort in than ‘Love’ deserves.
I should also probably say, a little bit late, that I do like Josie Long’s stand-up, her podcasts and her mildly amusing panel show appearances. Even when Long’s stand-up is overly tangential or didactic, her routines still work because her stage presence and persona are that of someone who is still figuring out what they’re doing. So while the oddly aggressive introduction to Be Honourable–in which Long plays an astronaut who talks about having went “Up space”–might not seem particularly relevant to the extended musings on breakfast food and British politics that follow, Long is able to make this disconnect part of the story she’s telling. It’s all about working past easy amusement and trying be a better, more engaged citizen you see, and there’s something fascinating about watching Long trying to bend Fist of Fun-style silliness to such earnest ends.
You can still question a lot of the statements Long makes in the show though - her characterisation of Gordon Brown as a sad bear is amusing, for example, but I still felt that she was letting the fucker off way too easily there. Thankfully, Be Honourable provides an entertaining context in which to think about these questions, and hey – it turns out that Long’s zines (which she hands out at the door) and drawings (which she uses throughout her set) are part of this context, but they’re only the props, and perhaps they should never have been expected to work on their own.
It turns out that in aesthetics as with romance, 80% right really is 80% right after all. Then again, maybe this is just a story I’m telling myself to explain why I’ve spent most of this post ranting against a clumsy, two page comic strip. You could probably suggest that I didn’t like ‘Love’ because I didn’t see myself in it, or that the opposite is true and that I hated it because it reflected a part of my life that I can’t bear to look at. To be honest though, I don’t think Long’s comics are capable of provoking either response on, and maybe that’s why they’re so frustrating.
Time for a new story?