Friday, January 27, 2012

Changing Fortunes: Streakers

Nick Maandag's Streakers is an odd little book. There's much about this comic that's traditional, even conservative, in the way it tells a story. It's a slice-of-life comic about three losers who have little in common but their unusual mutual obsession. All three of them go through crises of self-confidence and loneliness as all they really have is each other, which is a dubious prize at best. The figures are somewhat flat and stiff, while the hatching and cross-hatching are almost mechanical in effect. What sets this book apart is that the three protagonists are all streakers, a phenomenon once confined to fad status in the 1970s that occasionally lives on in frat houses across America.

The two main characters in the book are a middle-aged streaker named Xavier who can never quite reclaim the fleeting glory achieved streaking during a marathon in his youth, and a nebbishy younger man who hasn't yet screwed up the courage to actually streak. That character, Tim, is a hilarious sad sack who is subjected to a series of humiliations at his job. Harboring dreams of being a chef, he's a dishwasher who's eventually demoted to "junior dishwasher"--with all of the other dishwashers being named as "senior dishwashers". Amazingly, Maandag creates real pathos and depth for this trio of losers, as the reader comes to care about their struggles.

The fact that so very little is at stake here makes their quest to return streaking to its former status of cultural phenomenon all the more compelling. Everything about this book is both quiet and unassuming in its comedic approach, and outrageous only in that its protagonists are naked throughout much of the book (and not especially attractive). The flatness of Maandag's line highlights the characters' nudity without going too far in the direction of the grotesque or the exaggerated for the sake of a laugh. The end of the book has a surprising moment of human empathy followed by an exhilarating bit of silliness and a moment of epiphany for the boorish Xavier. Mining the humor of discomfort while still managing to get the reader to empathize with these weirdos is a neat trick for Maandag, whose potential as a humorist is intriguing.

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