Friday, August 1, 2014

The End: Jam In The Band 3, #4

The final issue of a project that took seven years to complete, Jam In The Band Volume 3 #4 is an appropriately low-key ending to a story that reached its climax in Volume 2. Volume 1 followed an all-woman rock band from a small town, documenting its rise and the thrills surrounding that rise. Volume 2 followed the tensions that started to mount as its megalomaniacal lead singer, Bianca, constantly tried to urge the band on to greater success while her bandmates started to push back against her control. It eventually saw the band fall apart during a pressure cooker of a European tour. The first three issues of Volume 3 have been an extended epilogue, as each band member found different ways to pick up the pieces. Bass player Corbin joined a new, fun band. Drummer Tiara moved in with her boyfriend Nathan, a writer who covered the band, Pitch Girl, in its early days. Bianca was the only member of the band who couldn't let go, cutting herself off and alienating most of her friends while flirting with suicide. The end of the third issue saw her slow recovery 

While this issue and volume to a certain extent are simply about balancing an artistic career with growing up, it's more accurate to say that it's about how we measure success. What success looks like to each of the characters is quite different, and what trade-offs they're willing to accept for that success are also different. Bianca had the hardest fall because her goal was nothing less than worldwide fame, fortune and rock stardom. For Tiara, the band was about fun and getting out of her small town; even as a married woman, she still has a small band she plays with as an artistic outlet. For Corbin, the introvert who hid her loneliness with drinking and hooking up with women she met at shows, she never found the true love she wanted but at least has a new, fun band to play with. What I liked best about this issue is that Enrico wisely avoided making the wedding of Tiara and Nathan a cathartic experience for the whole band. Instead, Bianca goes to Germany to front a different rock band, launching herself back into life on the road with a wiser perspective but still brimming with enthusiasm. 

There's a song whose lyrics play in the final sequence of the book, one about being with your friends. The song ends by saying "Don't you miss all your friends tonight/But I can't be with my friends tonight/No I can't be with my friends tonight/I won't miss all my friends tonight" as we see scenes from the wedding and Bianca texts a friend to see how it went while she's in the airport leaving town. It's a scene that evokes that feeling of trade-offs that each of the characters faced. For Bianca, missing that wedding and being unable to either come to grips with the decision that Tiara made or making a scene and confronting her about it at the wedding seemed like impossible choices. For her, better to simply walk away, even if it's a decision that essentially ended many of those friendships. Bianca was no longer in charge of the lives of her friends and that realization, along with the realization that it was impossible not to think of them as being an extension of her will as an artist, that made the decision to simply walk away the smart one. Bianca was a fundamentally damaged character, one who sought solace through her talent and ambition, but it only dawned on her late in the story what kind of effect she could have on others. A reconciliation simply would have been impossible, especially at this stage of their lives. 

As a cartoonist, Enrico's style developed an admirable clarity as the series wound down and there became fewer exciting things to draw. He got to cut loose drawing the stage antics of Bianca's new band Omega Rugal (a band that reminds me a little of Flaming Fire), and the wedding scenes are lovely, but this issue was all about restraint, body language and finding creative visual solutions for depicting character interaction given Enrico's "flat", mostly static style. Enrico solves these problems with more detailed and varied backgrounds, greater character clarity with regard to moving in those backgrounds, and little visual flourishes like pictograms, characters being filmed for documentaries and other tricks. Combined with the other three volumes and the companion piece Life of Vice, Enrico has created quite the little epic, one that deserves far greater attention than it's received. Enrico took a lot of familiar elements and influences and turned them into something new and intensely personal. Jam In The Band is about any group of friends and artists who grow up together and struggle to find ways to continue to grow together while trying to find success in the real world. 

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