Monday, May 21, 2018

Minis: Mike Freiheit

Mike Freiheit's Go Fuck Myself! series of minis are mostly humorous autobio that focuses on mental illness, his relationship, and dealing with self-loathing. It opens on a note that I've seen a few times from autobio cartoonists: an army of duplicates converging on him and beating him to a pulp, leading him to decide to get up. After that, he dramatizes all the unpleasant things happening in a day (account balance insufficient, healthcare going up, worrying about doing an unfunny strip) as being kicked or punched in the groin...with him doing the honors in the final panel, uttering the titular phrase of the comic. That pretty much sums of the tenor of the strips: absurd and self loathing, with the author inviting the audience to laugh with and at him. The tone is lighter in other strips, like when his feet start yelling at him for exercising, then run away from his body when he takes off his shoes.

There are also uncomfortable strips where Freiheit catches himself staring at a pretty woman on a bus, then castigates himself for staring, then reminds himself that he's married. It's not quite at the level of horrifying self-revelation like in Ivan Brunetti's "I Like Girls", but it's in the same category. Later on, he helps his wife out when she's having a bad day at work, faxing the cat over in a bit of inspired silliness. There are funny callbacks, like Freiheit's alter ego (an apeman) and his dinosaur friend Craig encountering a benevolent alien (only to kill and eat it) and Freiheit wondering out loud to his wife that if he had a friend named Craig, could he call him "Craigasaurus Rex"? The best thing about that strip is that he felt he needed permission from his wife for this absurd thought.

The first issue ends with a substantial short story about dealing with anxiety and depression, personified as a round shadow creature that takes over his brain and prevents good thoughts. It's not an original idea, but his execution is crisp and affecting, using deep blacks to frame the rest of the action. He takes the metaphor to a funny place as things like therapy and medication are daggers used to stab depression and force it to ebb. What I liked best was turning that martial metaphor around as Freiheit hugged the manifestation of his fears and depression in a gesture of understanding that this is part of him. The issue closes with Freiheit's apeman self yelling at him in the mirror after Freiheit reaches out to him, saying that he's needed to keep him sharp as an artist.

The second issue (subtitled: "The Fuckening") is sharper in every way. Freiheit juggles five different narratives all relating to the same theme, taking place in different time periods. The first involves him as a farmer in a village, enduring going to the church of the Sky-Beast because his wife is still into it. The second features the return of his ape-man, trying to introduce the concept of dairy to his tribe and proposing that they merge with a nearby tribe instead of fighting with them all the time. The third takes place in the modern day, where he mulls over the idea of being a farmer and wondering if he could pick up the knack of killing animals for food. The fourth thread sees Freiheit in art school, enduring a horrible critique from a teacher. The last thread is in the future, where he and his wife are wearing body suits and wondering whether or not to buy a picture with or without clouds.

He neatly segues from period to period, with themes from each period echoing into the others. There's rejection in nearly every period: the apeman is ridiculed by his tribe (who worship the Sky-Beast) as well as the other tribe (who worship a kind of turtle creature); the art student not only endures a ridiculous critique, he's later forced to go to a museum where Hitler's beautiful tapestries are on display; the farmer skips out on tithing and is followed by the rest of the village to his home with torches; the couple are unhappy with their choices. Only modern day Mike, in the most banal of circumstances, seems to be happy, as his biggest decision revolves around what kind of sandwich to make. There's a final gag that ties it all together, but there's no question that this issue is a huge step up for the artist.

The strengths of the first issue are still all there: the doubts, the self-loathing, and the character of the apeman as a go-to protagonist. He folded everything else into the stories instead of them floating around as one-offs that were occasionally on the self-indulgent side. It's also more varied on a visual level, as Freiheit carefully builds his environments in such a way to both be distinctive and flow into each other in a natural way. He also doesn't linger too long on any particular story, and the transitions feel smooth and unforced. If the first issue was a lab where Freiheit worked on some very familiar concepts, the second issue was a solid finished project that touched on all of the important themes without hammering the reader over the head with them.

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