Monday, February 12, 2024

Noah Van Sciver's Maple Terrace #2

Noah Van Sciver remains in his productive groove of comics with the second issue of Maple Terrace, from Uncivilized Books. The series picks up on Van Sciver at a young age, living in a ramshackle house in New Jersey with his family. Maple Terrace is about poverty, alienation, and cruelty. It's also hilarious, as Van Sciver makes his younger counterpart the tragic target of a number of ridiculous scenarios. What makes it worse is that what seemed to be the temporary triumph of the first issue, built on deceit and theft, comes back to bite him in the ass in a perfectly melodramatic way. 

There's a sense in which these comics are a kind of second cousin to Evan Dorkin's classic Eltingville Club comics, featuring a bunch of guys with an intense shared passion for their niche and nerdy interests turning that passion into petty oneupmanship, petty gatekeeping, and the most pathetic kind of status-seeking imaginable. For Van Sciver in this story, he desperately wants to be considered cool by the people he knows at school, but this is constantly foiled by both his poverty and general weirdness. He's an oversensitive kid from a religious family that is scorned by pretty much everyone on his block, and every attempt at improving his status is foiled. 

In this issue, the comics he stole after an enemy seemingly got his just rewards are suddenly in jeopardy, as someone saw him stealing them. What's worse, this seems to corroborate the idea that he stole food from the house of his best friend, disqualifying him from playing with him again (and going to his farcically awesome birthday party). As he falls further into the web of his own "lies, deceit, and bullshit" (to quote Larry David), he's given an ultimatum to return the comics--only to get into a fight with his younger brother that destroys them. Van Sciver conflating their titanic conflict with the infamously dumb "Death of Superman" comic from the early 90s makes this even funnier. 

Visually, Van Sciver is in total control. His line is deliberately pretty loose here--much looser than in most of his other work. It's a deliberate way to give it a kind of little-kid feel without it devolving into little-kid scrawl (which he amusingly has on the back cover). His character design is varied and interesting, and I especially like his puffy hair matching that of his mother. The capricious art teacher at the school is another marvelous design, with shaggy male-pattern baldness and a walrus mustache, bestowing and taking away "art god" status on a whim. The color looks great on the coarse paper that mimics old comics. Van Sciver continues to mine autobiographical gold from his youth, even as he works on multiple projects at once. 

No comments:

Post a Comment