Friday, September 30, 2011

Between States: Badaboom Twist

David Libens, a fellow at the Center for Cartoon Studies, is one of many cartoonists who has done a daily diary strip. What's interesting about his strip is that there wasn't necessarily an initial intent to even publish it; it had a more therapeutic purpose. What's also interesting is that while it's very much a quotidian diary strip featuring details from his daily life as a husband and father, there actually is an underlying narrative. That narrative concerns his future: whether to stay in Belgium or move to America, his wife's country and one to which he feels a connection. To date, he's published four minicomics collections of his strips, which can be found at his blog.

In general, I thought these comics were some of the best autobio stories I've read in a while. There's a raw honesty in them and a willingness to be real on every page, even when he goes back and forth between the details of his day at work or with his family and his own doubts. The underlying narrative is really part of a larger theme, which is the feeling of being caught betwixt and between. He's unsure of himself as an artist because of his day job. He's uneasy living in Belgium and feels like the other shoe could drop any day and his family split up. He's uneasy being alone and uneasy at times being with his family. He has a great affinity toward America (indeed, he talks about wanting to publish comics in English) even if he's uneasy about the thought of being away from his own family if he moved there. In sum, there's a wide swing between resentment and empathy for both Libens and his wife, as they're both in an intractable situation. There are also moments of joy and ease to go along with that tension, and one senses that his anxiety is played up in these strips as a way to blow off steam.

There is a ragged simplicity to Libens' line here, as his hair is depicted as a few simple, unconnected lines. That gives his self-caricature a slightly disheveled look, especially when he depicts himself as stubbly as well. Everything about the strip feels spontaneous and expressive, which is frankly the only way in which these kind of strips can really work. The result can look rough and the page composition can be wonky as a result; some pages are way too wordy and it's clear that he rushes through some panels in an effort to crank out a strip on a given day. The thing about these sort of strips is that it's not the impact of a single strip that's important, but rather the cumulative effect of these comics. The reader slips into the artist's stylistic skin, so to speak, and Libens makes it easy for a reader to adapt to his style and voice because it's clear that he's so comfortable in it. It's that ease with his own voice that makes it possible for Libens to get across how uncomfortable he is with all other aspects of talking about his life.

1 comment:

  1. Funny, I just yesterday finished reading Julie Delporte's "La Bédé-réalité" (Colosse, 2011) where she discusses Libens work a bit. She's also currently a fellow at CCS (or... she's doing something at CCS).