Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Highs and Lows With Mister V

The cartoonist Mister V is often at his best when writing his profane, revealing and detailed memoir comics that always have a specific focus. His DNR series concentrated on his work life as a patient transporter and later a patient processor at a medical center. His more recent autobio comics have been more focused and more potent as a result. Poser, his account of being bullied during eighth grade, is terrifying in its description of just how random a bully's victim can be. It's a brutal story about popularity, hierarchy and sheer social Darwinism. Unlike the more straightforward DNR, there's a more interesting framing device in this story, one that wraps the story of eight grade inside his thirtieth birthday party. Ultimately, Mister V has the young Matt (his real first name) meet adult Matt in a magical realist sequence that's remarkably cathartic, both for the reader and Matt himself.

Many of Mister V's comics are about traumatic events. Poser is the ur-story about his trauma, and how being bullied caused him to distrust authority and strangers for the rest of his life and helped him to become irritable, paranoid and defensive. When he asks his younger self why he never went to his parents, a teacher or anyone else about being bullied, the simple defense was "I ain't no fuckin' narc." The need to conform, to adhere to an ethical system that no one else took seriously, all in an effort to gain popularity, shows just how powerful that kind of peer pressure can be. The most insidious thing about it is that much of this pressure comes from within. Mister V has a remarkable way of relating his memories with a great deal of verisimilitude, perfectly echoing the sheer foulness of teenagers and their interactions in a manner that was at once funny, cruel and entirely credible. When he simply drops out of the race to be popular toward the end of the year (signified by cutting his hair short) and finds that his drawing ability gave him the attention he had been seeking all along, the modern day Mister V muses about how just being yourself in order to be popular sounds like the sappiest of afterschool specials.

Despite Mister V's highly sarcastic, detached persona, his comics actually explore the complexity and pain of emotions on a regular basis. There are any number of panels involving Mister V crying in Poser, for example. The same is true in the first volume of his new trilogy, Mile High: Adventures In Colorado Medical Marijuana. Once again, he wraps the narrative around a potential future where he catches his niece smoking pot from an electronic device, but she catches him smoking from a bong. From there, Mister V goes into a focused, hilarious and frequently insane rant about the hoops he had to jump through in order to obtain medicinal marijuana. Suffering from constant irritable bowel syndrome accompanied by pain and anxiety, pot was one of the few things that ever gave him relief. Mister V takes the reader into the sketchiest of neighborhoods, the sleaziest of scam artists and the fear of being busted by agenda-serving federal agents. The scene where he breaks the news that he's using medicinal marijuana to his generally-disapproving parents is the funniest in the book, as he's soon disabused of the notion that he was going to shock his pot-smoking dad by making this revelation. What I loved most about this book is not that Mister V was extolling the virtues of pot because he loved getting high, but because it genuinely had a positive impact on his life. On his wedding day, for example, he had a huge IBS flare-up that was quieted down by just a few puffs, creating a magical environment that allowed him to live his life in health rather than see him in agony. This book isn't necessarily an argument for marijuana's legalization per se, but rather it's a personal account of the way it's improved his life and the ridiculous bureaucracy he had to wade through in order to get there.

Mister V's art is highly cartoony and stylized (indeed, it's as though Jim Davis drew comics about a foul-mouthed teenager), but he adds a number of effects to give his work more weight and solidity. His use of facial exaggerations and contortions is his go-to signature as an artist, but his increased use of greyscale tones and thick panel borders gives each individual image a greater overall impact. As an artist, Mister V is a plugger, relentlessly drawing page after page until he's gotten better by way of sheer effort. He's developed his own style and voice, and most importantly has begun to learn how to edit himself properly. He could strip things down even further and be even more effective, but there's something to be said for his "more is more" approach as well. His narrative voice is abrasive but amiable, self-deprecating but proud, and harsh but full of unexpected warmth.

No comments:

Post a Comment