Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Joe Decie's Comfortable Schlubbiness

Joe Decie's latest humor-driven collection of autobio strips, The Listening Agent (Blank Slate Books), is not so much a diary of daily events or a record of significant moments in the lives of Decie and his family. Instead, it's a sort of clearing-house for his brain. Some of the bits of weirdness that float out of his brain are indeed personal and even touching (like one where he and his young son are eating cheap sandwiches on the street and his son says "Well Daddy, this is the life"), but many of them are just gags that he can't wait to unleash on the world in the same restrained, pithy and even lazy manner as he does with his more personal observations.

Of course, the ease in reading his comics belies the amount of labor Decie puts into them. His grey-washed, realistic style is highly expressive and even lovely to look at. His understanding of body language and use of gesture is key to making strips that feature very little in the way of movement nonetheless come alive. The other key to this book's success is simply that Decie is not only hilarious, but is quite skilled at the craft of setting up a joke. In a strip entitled "Parents Tips No. 95: Relax", we see Decie and his son play with Decie's old Star Wars toys, the reader expects Decie to talk about letting his son play rough with his toys. Instead, he's outraged that his son isn't "playing right" with R2-D2. Another example includes Decie's odd behavior at his office, only to reveal in the final panel that he doesn't work in an office but does enjoy daily trips to the "office furniture megastore".

That dry sense of restraint powers strips after strip, allowing Decie to pull the rug out from under readers more than once. He frequently zigs when the reader expects him to zag, like in a strip where he's complaining about the dangers of his house (spiders, asbestos, lead in the pipes, a boiler potentially exploding) that ends in a panel that reads "And who left all these dirty needles in the shower?" Decie sometimes goes for the absurd joke or situation, but keeps his material grounded enough to be directly relatable as a series of strips about being a father. Despite his material being joke-oriented, Decie reveals a great deal about himself and his family in his work precisely because jokes and humor are such an essential part of his life.

No comments:

Post a Comment