Monday, February 11, 2013

Back to Black: Jam In The Band 3

There's a sense in which Robin Enrico wrote himself into a corner at the conclusion of Jam In The Band V2.The first volume depicted an all-woman indy rock band in mid-rise, flashing back to their roots and forward to their decline. It's an upbeat, visually exciting comic that combines stripped-down cartooning and a certain video game aesthetic. The second volume depicts the depressing crash of the band, a break-up that occurs in a tour of Germany in front of hostile fans and in unpleasant working & living conditions. Bianca, the despotic leader of the band whose drive put the band together and pointed them to success, was no longer delivering on her promises. That prompted Tiara, the sweet-seeming drummer, to stand up for herself and punch her out. Corbin, the alcoholic skirt-chasing bass player, also walked out. Enrico wrote in the notes to these comics that he had trouble returning to the story, doing an entire second miniseries (the fun Life of Vice) but then nearly quit comics altogether. It's understandable; he wrote a story that ended; and coming up with what occurs after that ending is tricky from a conceptual and narrative standpoint.

Bianca being his stand-in, it's no wonder the story progresses as it does in the first two minicomic issues of the third volume of Jam In The Band. Enrico goes to some pretty dark places in this volume, including a repeating motif of Bianca tying her belt to her door and suffocating herself with it--not enough to kill herself, but enough to alter herself. It's telling that Enrico draws her as her Rock Star alter ego that she has dialogues with earlier in the series; she has now become a Rock Star, only now she's in the washed-up stage of rock stardom. Bianca dominates the first two issues of this volume mostly be her absence; she barely says a word as she constantly tinkers with her music, draining the patience of the few people who will still talk to her. The comic is also interesting because it examines the life of artists who have to figure out what to do with their lives after their first big project ends. Do you get married? Get a job? Drop out altogether? How do you balance the immense satisfaction of playing live shows with the reality of turning thirty and trying to figure out how you can do art and live a relatively comfortable life? Of course, all of these questions pertain to making comics as well and all of them undoubtedly had a place in  Enrico's thinking during his time away from making art.

These issues catch up with Tiara (now close to thinking about marriage), Corbin (now in an "Electro Booty Jamz" band called Rayd Tittiez) and assorted side characters like the ebullient Becky Vice and outsider artist Jennet. The relationship between Jennet and Corbin is fascinating; Corbin's in love with her and Jennet is willing to allow an emotional relationship between the two of them, but nothing more. There's a level of complexity in that relationship that Enrico pulls off nicely, adding a layer of depth to Corbin that she badly needed. Indeed, Enrico does a nice job of fleshing out his characters the more time he spends with them, turning potentially one-note (but fun) characters like Becky Vice into vivid, believable (if slightly crazy) people. Enrico has also progressed as a draftsman, adding a level of precision to his simply-drawn characters that makes them pop off the page. He still has his trademark party-clutter pages, but even these are easier to follow as his page design sense has sharpened. The flashbacks and flashforwards and "interview" pages continue to be go-to narrative devices for Enrico as a way to break up the story into vignettes, though they are in less evidence in this volume out of necessity. Enrico definitely answers one of the big questions of this project: can you balance ambition in one's art with having a personal life? That's a pretty definitive yes as far as most of the character go. The larger question is, can an artist obsessed with success ever be satisfied? That's a question that I imagine we'll see answered in the remaining issues of this excellent series that captures a particular time and place with a great deal of verisimilitude.

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