Friday, December 31, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #39: Luke Healy

There's no question that Luke Healy is one of the most interesting of the CCS grads, as he seems to have managed the depiction of interpersonal awkwardness to such an acute degree that it is almost painful to read. On top of all this is a density of plot that weaves his characters together in unexpected ways. This was especially true in The Unofficial Cuckoo's Nest Study Guide, particularly in its original form as a mini, but it's also true in his newest, not-at-all autobiographical book from D&Q, The Con Artists

Healy's sense of humor is bone-dry while at the same time luxuriating in hilariously over-the-top tropes. For example, in the comics introduction, he tells the reader that he's been asked to read a prepared statement about the book being fictional, and any resemblance to real people being coincidental, etc. As he's saying this, he changes into the clothes the character Frank wears and puts on a ridiculous fake mustache. It's a kind of prop comedy that feeds directly into the way the Frank character struggles with his stand-up comedy. 

Frank and his best friend Ro (a woman who notably practices healthy boundaries, and hence is only a minor character in this story) are planning their big sets for the Edinburgh comedy festival when Frank takes a call from his childhood friend Giorgio. Like him, Giorgio is Irish and living in London, gay, and attention-seeking. Giorgio calls him after he's been hit by a bus. 

What follows is an incremental dissolution of boundaries, outright manipulation, grifting, and just enough plausible deniability to induce a great deal of guilt. Frank feels obliged to take care of Giorgio, who has broken his arm in a bus accident. Giorgio takes advantage of Frank at every turn, even making him cut up his pizza. Frank learns that Giorgio is a grifter who has packages sent to a vacant apartment next door, claims he never got them, then sells them on ebay. 

This puts Frank in a tizzy. Did Giorgio intentionally get hit because he was depressed? Or drunk? Or worse, because he knew he'd be able to get Frank to do his bidding? When Frank sneaks out of Giorgio's life instead of directly confronting him, Giorgio reacts by attending one of Frank's shows and being an asshole. When Frank gets dragged back into Giorgio's life after another accident (?) that caused some brain damage, he calls Giorgio's father against his wishes. Giorgio lies to his parents about a huge debt, which they "pay off," and Giorgio "forgives" Frank. 

Was it a long con, or a predator with an uncanny ability to land on his feet after self-imposed disasters? Ah, but the title of the book is The Con Artists, plural. Why does Frank allow himself to get roped in? Why does Frank let his boundaries get stepped on, and have it affect his career? Why does Frank allow his anxiety to seemingly go off the rails? If Giorgio is fooling everyone else, then Frank is fooling one person: himself. And he cops to it when he reveals why, and he tells Giorgio he loves him. In that moment, Giorgio knows the jig is up and has no power over him anymore. The mustache comes off. The "romance" is over, and Healy reveals himself, and it's a hard thing to admit. The last panel reveals that one of Giorgio's criticisms of Frank--that he uses others to tell stories--becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The entire book, Healy's whole stance on it and himself, is one born out of guilt. Not guilty enough to not do the book of course, but guilt nonetheless. Whether or not he should feel guilty is another question. 

In Healy's other comics, he reveals being self-conscious about his body and weight. He leans into that here, drawing himself as cartoonish and big, and drawing Frank the same way. It's the way he modulates the expressions of his characters will leaving them slightly cartoonish that makes this comic so emotionally powerful. When he sees a smirk on Frank's face when his dad talks about paying his "debt," when he sees how he stages all of his Instagram photos, when he's confronted by someone who masks in a different way than he does but with an equal amount of secret confidence, it's discomfiting. It's discomfiting because he also loves him, but in a way he understands is unhealthy--just as their entire relationship is unhealthy and built on deceptions. Healy's ability to depict this subtly is what makes it such a good comic and makes him a fine cartoonist and cringe-inducing humorist. 

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