Life with Mr. Dangerous |
by Paul Hornschemeier (Villard, 2011)
For some reason, I find myself wondering from time to time if humans do, in fact, reincarnate. It's a fascinating concept. I admit to being attracted to the idea of being able to either evolve to a better existence or reboot life entirely from scratch. Then I see a movie like Ghostworld or read a graphic novel like Life with Mr. Dangerous, and I remember that if I am reborn into a new life, I might have to be a 20-something again. Suddenly, the whole idea becomes less attractive.
Not that I'm dissing 20-somethings. Some of the most sensitive, intelligent, focused and hardworking folks I know are under the age of 30. The problem is that, all other accomplishments and virtues aside, the period of life between 19 and 30 is a monumental struggle for self-definition. Regardless of your level of employment, dating status or relationship with your family and friends, there is a reason that it is referred to as the "quarter-life crisis." It's a moment in time when you start realizing that you don't know who you are or where you're going. Your feelings are all over the map; one minute you are confident to the point of arrogance, the next minute insecure enough to do yourself real damage. You don't know how to be in a relationship because you simply have not had enough experience, and risky behavior like getting wasted and having one-night stands, which looked like real freedom when you were a teenager, is suddenly boring. While I'm not necessarily fond of bifocals, silver hair and various and sundry minor health issues, I don't know that I would trade my hard-won peace of mind for better looks and a healthier body, simply because the decade-long soul searching can be a torment even for the most well-balanced individual.
Once upon a time, Paul Hornschemeier read Ghostworld by Daniel Clowes and realized the legitimacy of graphic storytelling as a medium capable of delineating complex emotional landscapes by utilizing both internal (written word) and external (illustrations) means of expression. For some people, it's a bastard hybridization that represents a lower, lazier form of storytelling, while for others it's a higher form of narration that engages both halves of the brain. Hornschemeier, as an enthusiastic devotee of the Clowes method, definitely falls into the latter camp.
What I love best about all of Hornschemeier's work, including Mr. Dangerous, is the way he humanizes the difficulty of getting through the day. Although he uses magical reality and metaphors in highly specific doses in the same manner as Clowes, as a means of illuminating and reflecting the current action, he doesn't carry it to the point of pure whimsicality, nor does he romanticize depression and hard luck. But Clowes likes to create dark, layered worlds that have very little light in them; he tends to go deep into despair without ever coming out the other end. I enjoy his work but it is like sinking down into one level after another without very much conclusion at the end. It's more of a messy trailing off, like a break up that concludes badly (and thus, never really ends).
Hornschemeier also delves into the sadness that seems to be the bedrock of all existence, but it's much more slice-of-life, and comes with beginnings, middles and ends. It is far easier to relate to his work, not to mention his wonderfully succinct artistry.
Amy is a 20-something young woman who is in love with a friend she isn't sure loves her and has a total jackass for a boyfriend, a lousy retail job and a life some might define charitably define as slacker, if they were feeling judgmental. But we don't all date movie stars, have trust funds to draw on or work for UNICEF. Sometimes all we can do is get by from paycheck to paycheck, from relationship to relationship, waiting for the solutions to present themselves, because sometimes, no matter how hard you try to march in the direction of answers, they will elude you.
Admittedly, the story at first it seems like a real downer. Midway through I was beginning to wonder just where Amy was going. But that's part of Hornschemeier's talent: he can get you really interested in whether or not a young woman's future is going to look anything like her tightly boxed in present.
Life with Mr. Dangerous is deep, almost borderline depressing, but that's part of the longing of that time in life: the seemingly endless wait for life to define itself. Amy ends up being a likeable protagonist, who-without giving anything away-decides not to be sad and mope about forever. Part of the lesson involves learning that life is really about the simple moments of joy that help everything stay knitted together; the other part is in realizing that many of those moments are right now, in front of your face, and won't happen again. Waiting for something big to happen will simply result in life dissolving into pointlessness like sugar in hot water. The only time you really have, is now.
Mr. Dangerous doesn't touch on anything new, but it does have its own charming and quirky way of illuminating the familiar. The emotional shifts are deep under the surface but they are clear. Amy may be depressed but there are damn good reasons as to why she is in that state of being. The subtle art is a pitch-perfect match for the crisp, straightforward plot, which has a lot to say about growth, love, and introspection in a way that has less to do with navel-gazing and more to do with a believable search for self-definition. Hornschemeier does share many similarities with Clowes but each artist has his own unique vision. Hornschemeier's dry, almost scathing wit and matter-of-fact narrative style keeps the story from becoming too dull, or too sharp, for that matter.
I might, just might, even reconsider the whole karmic cycle thing as a real boon if my life were a bit like a Hornschemeier story, because he does, at the end, move toward redemption, and also because ennui never looked so good as it does in his capable, empathetic hands.
28 January 2012
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