Life Sucks
by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria, Warren Pleece (First Second, 2008)

Attention fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight: Life Sucks is Ghostworld meets Clerks meets Interview With a Vampire. And it's really cool.

Life Sucks tackles a subject I thought had been beaten to molecules -- vampires -- and injects it with a deeply ironic Gen-Y sensibility. More than just a pastiche of rehashed vampire stories, it's an interesting take on what being a vampire is really like: tedious, dull and restrictive, if you're not willing to be a sociopath or a bloodthirsty hunter.

Dave Miller is a wage slave in the very literal sense. A clerk in a 24-hour convenience store called The Last Stop, he can only work the night shift because, duh, if he works the day shift he'll catch fire. The reason he'll toast is because he's a vampire, although not very enthusiastically.

He also can't quit because the man who bit him -- Radu, a.k.a. Lord Arisztedescu -- is the owner of The Last Stop. Radu also happens to be a hundreds-years-old vampire who was in dire need of a night-shift worker, until Dave wandered in asking about the "Help Wanted" sign.

Dave is having trouble adjusting to his new lifestyle. A vegan, he can't abide drinking human blood, ingesting only past-dated plasma in a V-8 bottle for sustenance. His refusal to hunt humans means he doesn't get to use all the cool superpowers at his disposal, at least not willingly. No misting, no hypnosis, no super strength. Somehow being a vampire just doesn't seem to be a very good fit for Dave. Life really does suck when you're stocking cases of Blood Brew, rotating hotdogs for your Vampire Master and being mercilessly picked on by other, more experienced vampires like surfer dude Wes, a rich Malibu kid with killer looks, killer car and killer attitude, in every sense of the word. Wes's primary mission in life is to drive by The Last Stop and torment Dave every chance he gets. The only thing making Dave's world even a notch brighter is Rosa, a human Goth girl with a thing about vampires.

Yes, Life Sucks has as its core a classic boy-meets-girl story that takes its turns pretty well as Rosa makes Dave's life just so much more complicated. The problem isn't that Dave is in love with Rosa. The problem is that Wes wants Rosa, too.

This is Gabe Soria's first graphic novel and he proves himself to be a more than capable storyteller. Add the excellent Jessica Abel to the mix and you get a bit of magic. Together they've put a neat twist into some of the old vampire legends. When Rosa starts wondering if vampires have all the luck and live much better lives than mere humans, romanticizing the possibility until it bears no resemblance to reality, Dave tries to bring her back to the real world. What if some vampires aren't rich? What if they have to work at crappy, boring jobs because their Masters won't let them do anything else? Abel and Soria do a marvelous job of taking formulaic storylines about vampires and turning them upside down in a way that reminds me of Christopher Moore's hysterical vampire novels, Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck.

There's a good view of teenage angst in Life Sucks that isn't just a fly-over. The mind-numbing boredom of minimum-wage work is as omnipresent as a bad, blinking neon sign, as Dave tries his utmost to protect Rosa from Wes, who already has three vampire brides that he tends to behead when he's feeling down. How to make Rosa aware that he wants to be more than friends, and how to keep her safe from Wes -- who is not only Dave's worst enemy but a psychotic murderer in B.U.M. beachwear -- creates a tense, taught storyline.

Dave's friends are an interesting bunch, and the banter between them is very realistic, not to mention pretty funny. Diner waitress Sue-Yun is the kind of "best friend who happens to be a girl" that anyone could turn to if they were in real trouble; biker Merle can be counted on to have Dave's back when the chips are down; and roommate Carl and fellow late-night shift-worker Jerome are the sorts of friends that get you into and out of trouble in the same night, which makes for some fine comedy.

British artist Warren Pleece's art is solid, well done, without too much gory violence. The mundane existence that is Dave's world is somehow visually interesting even it its static moments. The subtleties of each scene are neatly captured, the characters well defined. It's quite dark but the darkness is appropriate to the story without obscuring details.

The ending is not at all formulaic. It was actually rather fitting, neat and tidy without trying to smooth everything over. Dave and Rosa both have some growing up to do, and they get there, all in good time. Life is rough and there's no way out of living it, not even for the undead. Props to Abel and Soria for making a vampire story, of all things, into a reality check, which is a pretty neat trick. Life Sucks is well-written and smart, with a great twist that makes it so much better than "standard lore" storytelling. Just when the genre was getting stale, this breath of fresh air came along.

review by
Mary Harvey

20 June 2009

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