Nonfiction

Off-ramp

A short poem or snippet or thingy by Brian Andreas (source: Story People), which I like a lot, but which also needs a tiny bit of improvement. See that last little phrase there? Yeah, “& there are no words for that”, that’s the one. It’s nice because it calls up once more the opening lines talking about specialized cultural vocabularies. So it gives a sort of circularity to the poem. But what it expresses? That’s already included (and very strongly so) in the phrase immediately prior. 95% of what these last words do is already done and far better; they simply serve as a way to wrap up the piece—elegant, sure, but also unneeded, extra.

Here, try this: cover up that last, extraneous phrase with your hand, and then read the poem. See how the evocation of two lovers snuggling against each other in bed hits you, right in the solar plexus, knocks the wind out of you? That’s where the poem needs to end.

(The depiction also implies that that very snuggling is a language in itself, its own vocabulary—a suggestion that is not borne within the statement “& there are no words for that”.)

(Also, I am aware that I do not know the context for this snippet. Maybe it all makes sense in its original place. Maybe my critique is not valid. Maybe not.)

Nonfiction

Master Stroke

Ok, The Trenches annoys me. Frequently. I don’t know why I keep reading it, really. I mean, it is well written, and the characters have depth. If the events are mundane, it’s because that’s the focus of the comic—it’s about the mundane lives of a bunch of mundane people working a mundane job. (What’s that adage about how the only normal people are the ones you don’t know yet?). It’s all slightly exaggerated, because that’s what caricatures do. But something about it, some sort of background buzz perhaps, ticks me off. The tone, maybe, or the setting. Or the fact that I don’t really like (or identify with) most of the characters. In fact, almost none of them are likeable; they are mostly petty and self-interested, with a smattering of other not-so-hot traits thrown in for seasoning. Isaac, ostensibly the main character, is a scheming dick (but happily, an incompetent schemer). Gwen is selfish and somewhat lazy. Marley is admittedly not selfish or petty, but his brain is so fried that he’s lost touch with reality, and I just don’t want to be near him. Q is an arrogant corporate climber, and also a bit of a dick. And the others are pure caricatures, and caricatures that depict only the banal, the weird and the pathetic, at that. (One person thinks he is a bat. One is batshit looney.)

Let us be clear. I think the comic is masterfully dislikeable. (I want to use words like “repugnant” and “repulsive”, but they are too strong.) It is not awful. The characters are not detestable, not horrifying or disgusting. They are unsavory. Shady. Everyone (except Cora) is trying to have an angle, some sort of advantage for him or herself, or is so far gone on some trip or another (weed, dementia, whatever) that he or she can no longer really see reality.

But this particular strip is spot on. It “exposes” (scare quotes because this is not news to readers) and makes fun of Isaac. He is a villain, or he wants to be one, unconsciously. He is exclusively self-interested, and actively tries to harm others for his own benefit—not out of sadism or a desire to hurt, just out of greed, selfishness, power-hunger. But he is an incompetent villain; his plans fail, backfire. And as this strip makes clear, he is incompetent enough not to realize that he is not a hero. He is the opposite.