Thursday, June 8, 2017

As You Were, Volume 4

The fourth volume of the punk-themed anthology As You Were is all about living situations. One of the problems this anthology has had was getting too many entries that were too much alike, as well as many cartoonists not quite being up to the task of writing something serious or poetic without coming across as pedantic. In this volume, the slightly broader nature of the theme allowed for some oddball entries along with more familiar stories about dilapidated houses, weird roommates, and the punk lifestyle in general. The anthology is generally funnier than any prior volume as well, both in terms of stories that are nothing but gags as well as more situational humor.

There's also a nice mix of short strips and longer stories, as well as some illustrations that tell a story. Both Andy Warner and Liz Suburbia have full-page drawings of a house with different kinds of goings-on. For Suburbia, it's a full-blown punk rager complete with a band on the porch but with some of the housemates sitting quietly in their rooms. For Warner, it's a smartly-designed drawing that focuses on the details of each unoccupied room in the house and leads the eye over to the treehouse on the right side of the page. A lot of the stories play off stereotypical riffs about punk living: piled-up dishes, bric-a-brac everywhere, parties at the drop of the hat, communal living and much more. Ben Passmore sends that up with "The Punklord", which puts all those ideas in a blender and then turns them into a heroic quest. Passmore's chaotic style that tends to fill up every panel with detail gets at that anarchic quality of punk living better than anyone else in the book.

Jim Kettner's "Tales From The Bookhouse" takes an idealistic approach, lovingly detailing a house and a network of punk houses in Philadelphia, their hilarious parties that served as camaraderie-building exercises and a powerful sense of connection that drew back many when the time came to shut it down. Kettner's clean, naturalistic style deliberately takes the edge off the setting in a way most of the other cartoonists in the book chose not to do. The other end of the spectrum finds Steve Larder's "The Hippy House", about a self-described square who moved into a ridiculous stereotype of communal living, complete with "random bits of fabric on the walls", property that not-so-mysteriously walked away, piles of dishes and bare feet. His line is a frantic scrawl that reflects the intensity and surprises of that situation, though his reactions were very much made with a lot of affection. Erin Wilson's "Buying The Baron's House" in many ways is the definitive statement on the punk ethos, especially from a feminist perspective. Using an eight-panel grid, the left side of the page depicts the construction of the house in 1858, as a young businessman steadily becomes more interested in money than his own family, dying alone in a house full of servants, most of them women. The right hand side depicts 2008, as a group of female punks take over the now-decrepit house, joyously renovating it and replacing the scowling portrait of the titular Baron with one of anarchist hero Emma Goldman. Wilson's clean and precise line cleverly relates lots of subtle details, like the Baron's wife drifting toward the attentions of a lumberjack..

There are three standout stories in particular. Steve Thueson's sharply drawn "July 2009" about living in a tiny room during college is a joyous union of clear-line and clutter. The story is funny and pits the familiar tropes of living in a punk house with an especially urgent plot point: his girlfriend asking then-virgin Steve if he wanted to have sex. He didn't have a condom, but there was a place in the house with a bowl of them. But when he got there, a house concert was in progress and he didn't have the guts to go to the bowl and just grab one. The comedic timing is sharp and there's a sweet poignancy to it all. Nomi Kane's "Nightmare On Milwaukee Avenue" put her in conflict with a housemate who wouldn't buy toilet paper when it was his turn (disgustingly using newspaper and throwing them in the trash can) but who gave Kane grief for merely keeping her tampons nearby in the bathroom. There's a scene of truly righteous anger that had me laughing out loud that in particular exposed how many hippy/grungy types who might seem enlightened have many sexist and even misogynist beliefs. Finally, Rick V's "Draws A Comic About Every Human He Has Lived With" succeeds by sheer force of repetition and his ability to find a gag for every situation, matching his crude but energetic art.

Some of the stories are just about spaces: the haunted room that Liz Prince grew up in, the way that Aimee Pijpers managed to find comfort in virtually every space she ever lived in, and Lindsay Anne Watson's depiction of a simply floating in a comfortable space done in the same style as Michael DeForge. Some of the stories take the concept to the limit, like an infomercial for an old punks' home by Rob Cureton, an odd sci-fi story about reclaiming lost prisoners by Joshum, and James The Stanton's fantastical account of rats pouring out of a wall in a punk house and forming a single, sentient being that flies into space. There are also more variations on strange people encountered and spaces lived in that frankly didn't register, which is often a problem with this anthology. It's always about twenty pages too long

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