Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Peepshow #1-14

Welcome, one and all, to the Jawsome Olde Tyme Revue, the blog where we revue things that are jawsome -- or is it that the things may not actually be jawsome, but our revue is? It's hard to say.

Anyway, the first item up for revue is issues 1-14 of Peepshow, a comic book by Joe Matt, the man of two first names. I'm not really into the indie comic "scene," so my colleague would probably be better suited to revue this, but she hasn't gotten around to reading it yet, so the task has been delegated to me. So you'll just have to excuse me if I don't know what I'm talking about. All I know about this comic and its author is what I learned from reading it.

Peepshow is an autobiographical comic. The narrator is somewhat unreliable, so it's not clear how much of it is exaggerated or outright fabricated, but it doesn't really matter. I know that being unflattering and self-deprecating in an autobiographical work is a common device, but this guy takes it to a whole new level. During the first storyline (ishes 1-6), he seems to go back and forth between pointing out how much of an a-hole he is and trying to portray himself as a sympathetic character. The first issue is about his crush on a friend of his girlfriend; the second is about him dealing with his girlfriend not being happy about his making a comic about his crush on her friend. You're never sure whether his ridiculous justifications for his behavior are being presented as a target for laughter at his expense or whether he actually expects you to agree with him. It's probably a little of both.

It's kind of a strange mix, but it works. His character is most assuredly an a-hole, but he's still likable. It helps that his friends Seth and Chester (who are apparently other comics peeps, but I'm not familiar with them) are usually around to make fun of him and act as representatives of the reader's incredulity at his a-holeness. (Pictured above: Seth reiterates his analogy that talking to having a conversation with Joe is like being a treadmill.)

So the first six ishes deal with Joe lusting after various women, and the consequences that arise from that. I'd go into more detail, but I wouldn't want to spoil anything. By the way, despite what the title might lead you to believe, this isn't an especially bawdy comic. Oh sure, there's the occasional T&A (and even some C&B in a later ish) and lots of masturbation references, but the really filthy stuff is not explicitly depicted. Just thought you should know so you're not disappointed.

After six ishes of Joe Matt's girl troubles, ishes 7-10 comprise the "Fair Weather" storyline, an abrupt and radical departure from the previous ishes. Out of nowhere, Joe Matt flashes back to his childhood for a story about attending church fairs, making unfair trades with his unwitting friends for rare comics, digging underground forts, and trying to meet a TV horror host. If this all sounds a little saccharine, well, it is, but tolerably so (no worse than any other nostalgic childhood remembrances), and it's somewhat balanced out by Joe and his friend making fun of a retarded girl and sneaking peeks at topless women (not pictured) through a fence. It's a cute enough little story, but it's not really where the author's true talent lies, and maybe I'm no better than the unwashed masses complaining about it on the letters pages, but I have to admit I was glad when this storyline was over and Peepshow returned to the present-day (more or less) neurotic sex-addict version of Joe.

Even so, the last storyline (ishes 11-14) is a different beast. Now Joe is less of an a-hole and more just pathetic. He seems to have stopped interacting with women altogether and now spends all his time borrowing porn videos, dubbing them and editing out all the shots of the guys (with the exception of money shots), and masturbating several times a day. He reaches new heights of patheticness when he comes up with the "stroke of sheer genius" of keeping a second urine bottle in his closet so he'll have to empty them half as often. Aside from Seth and Chester, he now tries to avoid interacting with other people whenever possible, and a large portion of this storyline consists of him talking to himself. It starts off as an exposé of his porn addiction and then drifts into commentary on his comics output and his life in general. Then it just kind of ends, unsatisfyingly. Apparently the next storyline will be about Joe moving to Los Angeles. But this series started in 1992 and is only now up to issue 14, so you probably shouldn't hold your breath waiting for it.

Oh, I guess I should talk about the art style a little bit, since it is a visual medium and all. (Here's the part where I really don't know what I'm talking about.) Well, it's a pretty simple style, black and white (except for the last storyline when the pages turn yellow and he incorporates splashes of red (not the infamous ZZT game)), with bold lines. The early ishes have a more grotesque R. Crumb sort of look to them; "Fair Weather" is just sort of straightforward cartoony; and the last storyline simplifies it even more and makes it look sort of like a newspaper comic strip or something, fuck if I know. Obviously I know nothing about art but I felt obligated to have something about that in here.

I also recommend reading the letters pages, where readers repeatedly admonish Joe Matt for various things and suggest he get therapy. Plus it includes special celebrity guest letter-writers such as Rivers Cuomo, James Kochalka, one of the women depicted in an earlier comic, and Joe Matt's mom.

So, for my money, the first six ishes of Peepshow are the most amusing, but the whole series is worth reading. Czech it out if you get the czance.

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