Friday, July 31, 2015

Annoyed and Underemployed: Jane Mai's See You Next Tuesday

Jane Mai's Sunday In The Park With Boys was a devastating self-examination of a young woman grappling with depression. Her follow-up with Koyama, See You Next Tuesday, sees Mai taking the piss (and sometimes just pissing) out of herself, her self-image and the world around her. This is a super fast-and-sloppy series of strips, drawings, outbursts and other ephemera that seems to be culled entirely from Mai's sketchbook. It's not unusual for autobio comics by men to be driven by the id, with Robert Crumb at the forefront of that tradition. Mai represents a new generation of cartoonists who are just as frank and graphic about their desires, their fantasies and their lives.

Mai reveals a hilarious and cutting wit in this book. Her strategy eschews the quotidian quasi-narrative that most diary comics employ, as she instead jumps back and forth in time. The reader is clued in on which "Jane" they're seeing by the color of her hair. Mai comments on being alone, on having a boyfriend, on her toileting habits, on vomiting, on drinking, on her eating habits, on the concept of "yellow fever" and the balance between boredom & alienation and life's tiniest pleasures. There's a page where Mai depicts a friend of hers as a child vomiting in her hands in school and then flinging it across the room, with the caption of "no fucks" beneath it. That "I don't give a fuck" mentality is key to Mai's comics here. She doesn't care about propriety or appropriateness; instead, she talks directly about what's on her mind.

What's great about her stories is that every issue, from sex to scat to culture, is simultaneously treated in a mocking but intellectually curious fashion. She may be thinking about funny things to write about, but her subjects come from a sharply observant eye and a phenomenological sense of rigor. The strip where she's having sex and thinking about a grocery list, the strip where she's on top of her boyfriend and pretends that she has a penis by using his, the strip where she loses her "armpit virginity" and most especially the disgusting and hilarious "blumpkin spice" gag aren't designed to shock the reader; instead, her goal is to amuse herself, first and foremost. That's likely why there are so many stories about toilet humor in this comic, because it's obvious that it cracks her up.

At the same time, she invites the reader to laugh, pointing to a well-observed detail and essentially saying, "Get a load of this!" What makes these jokes funny is her absolute, steadfast and unflinching commitment to these gags as well as the way she so naturally incorporates them as part of her daily routine. Just as she works in jokes about her mother and father being disappointed in her along with jokes about being unemployed and unable to find a job, her honest curiosity about bodily functions and how funny they are just seems to be part of her nature. That her drawings range from hasty scrawls to neatly arrayed panels contribute greatly to the casual nature of this book. It makes the whimsical strips as well as the relatively few serious strips come alive in an unaffected, raw and direct manner. Another reason why these strips succeed is that Mai doesn't seem to care one bit about getting the reader on her side. She's not asking the reader to root for her or feel sorry for her but instead to delve into her observations as closely as she does and laugh at life's inevitably absurd conclusions.

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