Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Color of Night: The Wrong Place

Brecht Even's The Wrong Place is a simple triptych of stories about the nocturnal social adventures of two longtime friends.It's a visually stunning achievement in the way Evens uses watercolors to create his comics page, giving it a surprising amount of structure and solidity. What I like best about it is Evens' lack of judgment regarding his two protagonists, Gary and Robbie. Gary is a classic comics sad-sack loser who is desperate to be liked and loved, while Robbie leads a charmed life, creating entire social scenes simply by showing up. Robbie has a fantastic sort of naivete', flitting from person to person without entirely understanding the effect he has on them. Gary is oblivious in a different way, not entirely wanting to understand why people have no desire to be around him. They're both social mirrors: Robbie reflecting confidence, joy and spontaneity and Gary reflecting self-loathing and desperation. To be around them is to see either the best or worst in oneself, though neither seems to fully understand this as both are narcissistic in different ways.

The book's first segment sees Gary throwing a party, luring a bunch of people up to his lame event in a fifth-floor walk-up apartment. The reader slowly learns that every guest came because they though Robbie, Gary's childhood friend, would be there. In a series of hilariously awkward interactions, Gary completely fails to successfully engage any of his guests (my favorite part is when he tells one of his guests to crank up Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" as party music), keeping them at his part only because Robbie has assured him he would show up later.  When he finally doesn't show, everyone leaves. The second segment begins with a shy young woman who is hung up on Robbie going through the process of getting ready to go out to a club he likes, in hopes of seeing him. She hits the jackpot, hooking up with Robbie and getting caught up in his magical trail. Robbie is one of those rare individuals who has the power to create a magical adventure no matter where he goes, and if you're lucky enough to be picked to go with him, you get to be part of that story. The price one pays, as she learns, is that once the night is over, so is the magic. Robbie's ability to totally engage with someone and then detach completely is what makes everyone fall in love with him and follow him around, hoping that he might come around to them again.

That's what makes the third segment so interesting. Gary goes to Robbie's favorite club, and his old friend greets him warmly. While Robbie is happy to reminisce about old times, it's clear that Gary wants to bask in the glow of his friend's charisma and go on a magical adventure. Gary clearly wishes that he could have Robbie to himself all the time, though the attraction isn't a sexual one; Robbie's charisma makes straight men want to be his partner in adventure. Robbie takes him on one of these adventures, but when the time comes for Gary to jump off a balcony to get caught by a crowd like Robbie just did, he demurs. Robbie assures his friend that the crowd will catch him, but Gary doesn't do it. Part of the reason he draws back, I would guess, is that he's simply afraid to take a risk; he has no confidence in himself. There are other reasons, though: he may well think that the crowd won't catch him, because he's Gary and Robbie is Robbie. More to the point, he can pretend to be like Robbie, but in the end he can't do the things that Robbie does, and that scene is cold, hard proof. That scene is the dawning realization that he's kidding himself to think otherwise. Though Robbie urges him to push on through, he eventually lets his friend go, accepting him as he accepts everyone.

This book is one of the splashiest characters studies I've ever read, as Brecht uses the looseness of his watercolor approach to get expressionist and almost abstract on some pages, like the sex scene with Robbie and the girl he picks up in the second part of the book. The reader is fully pulled into the strange night world of the club, with patches of darkness being illuminated by gaudy outfits and colorful lights. The sections of the book that are devoted to characters thinking and talking about Robbie are as interesting as the Robbie segments themselves, and Evens doesn't disappoint by talking up Robbie for a chapter and a half before finally introducing him to the reader. Robbie is a tall, odd-looking person who has a simple and powerful sense of enthusiasm that others emulate because of the way he embraces life and the ease in which he negotiates every environment. One gets the sense that if he had asked to hear Jimi Hendrix at Gary's party, others would have gone along with it gladly. Evens impressively conjures up a setting where the stakes are high for its participants, even if they seem low to an outside observer. It's a period of time as a young person where one's nocturnal adventures are both a tether to youth and what gives meaning in an otherwise dull life, and Evens captures every detail along the way, both for his male and female characters.

1 comment:

  1. The best review I've read (and I've read many of them) of this book. I admire your restraint to resort to gushing praise. As I began to read the book a giddiness came over me reserved for those works which give me a sense of a new power entering the comics field.
    Your opening paragraph was as succinct as one could hope for. Well done.