I’m going to end up trying to make a bigger point about the nature of art and minimalism, so be warned, and maybe abandon ship on this review while you’re still able if that sounds insufferable. Here, I’ll even give you a short review to make it easier: I liked this comic, and you probably will too, assuming you have normal human feelings and a memory of how confusing things were back before you knew all the rules of social interactions. Because that’s what this comic is about: a six month span in 1995 (found that bit out from Simon’s website) when he was trying out different friends and what was and wasn’t OK to say to them. We get glimpses of a day spent watching a VHS tape on UFO’s, a walk through the woods, a day at the beach, a quiet day inside reading comics and watching TV, a brawl between a friend and his brother, and losing himself while listening to a cassette with a friend. Some or all of those vignettes will probably trigger a memory in you, probably from a time that you can barely remember… which has become something of a specialty for Simon. His minimalistic style, the choice that he makes to portray the past this way, mirrors faded memories remarkably well. Go on, try it out for yourself. Picture a memorable day from when you were a kid. Now picture the faces of the people around you and your environment. Really picture both; try for details. You’ll probably end up with something that looks a lot like what he’s drawn here, in one way or another. So yeah, this is another really solid comic from Simon. But it’s also one of the better representations of the fog of older memories that I’ve seen recently. $6
Smoo has either been on a break or I just haven’t been getting the comics, but this is the first new issue I’ve seen in a while. And it is just about as stripped down as a comic could be and still be considered a comic. This is (if I have the gist of it correct) about Simon’s time both with and without a girlfriend, or possibly just a very good friend. Everything is told in a few lines, and you can tell from that cover that the title figure barely qualifies as a stick figure. It still somehow works, as the bare bones of what he went through during that time are more than enough to carry the story. The relationship talk in particular is an explosion of a conversation that quite literally shatters his view of the world, and there are a lot of quiet moments following this before the eventual reconciliation. All of this is told with as few words as possible, but most of us have been in positions like this before and can see what’s going on even in the most simplified terms possible. It’s another solid issue, and it proves that you can identify with characters that barely even look human if the content is universal enough.
Hot damn, I think he’s done it. I think Simon has created the perfect comic about growing up in the suburbs, the little rebellions that you take along the way to try and keep things slightly interesting, and the shock of feeling exactly the same but finding yourself several years older, with irrefutable physical evidence of that fact. Now, “perfect” is a word that’s hard to quantify in much of anything, let alone a comic, and this is obviously my personal opinion (note: that fact is usually given away by the fact that I’m the one writing the review). But every single note of this felt like it was spot on, with no cutting of corners and no fake happy moments thrown in. I don’t want to ruin anything about this (even though I probably already did just by describing it), so I’ll go with some generalities. There’s the actual picture of Simon’s friends when they were younger to go along with the hazier drawn image of those friends several years later. There’s the fact that this house that 11 year old Simon moved into was mostly just a collection of angles and “other people’s carpets.” There’s remembering how every single thing that happened in the time when he was growing up was crucially important. Not “seemed” important, which is a meaningful distinction, but actually WAS important, which has to ring true for anybody reading this who has grown up. And every step along the way there are Simon’s drawings, sparse images against a field of white, that show how insubstantial the whole thing seems now. I’ve liked Simon’s previous comics, don’t get me wrong, but it feels to me like they were all leading up to this. I also have #5 here, and how it tops this issue I have no idea, but if you’re curious about Simon’s work, start here and work your way back. $5 (?)
It’s depressing to think that this comic only has a print run of 50 copies. Oh sure, Simon can always make more, and he has plenty of free comics up at his website, so it’s not like his work is barely visible. Still, it’s a sad testament to a lack of any sort of financial reward for doing really exceptional work. Are you kids today even buying comics, or just sticking with the free stuff on websites? As I’m officially in my mid 30’s now and I’ve been saying “you kids” for at least 15 of this years, I think it’s perfectly appropriate of me to ask that question, as a general disconnect with what has been considered popular has been a constant theme in my life. As this isn’t supposed to be about me, it’s a good thing that the first piece in this book deals with Simon’s general annoyance with his cell phone while still understanding that it’s more or less a necessity at this point. Yes, people DO forget that it’s just a tool. It also fits in nicely with the overall theme of this book, which is dealing with anxiety. Simon tells the story of a peaceful time, or at least a time when things were getting more peaceful, before he started getting threatening phone calls. The specifics of this are left out, which is a good thing for Simon and a bad thing for nosy people like me who always want more information. Anyway, the rest of the book deals with Simon trying to get a handle on his fear, how it’s always lurking around him somewhere, how he really doesn’t have it so bad after all and how throwing himself into mindless tasks doesn’t always work as a distraction. I loved it, but I’m pretty much officially biased towards the Smoo series at this point, so what do I know?Â It’s listed on his site as (if I’m getting the conversion rate right, and I most likely am not) roughly $4, so if you hurry you’ll be able to red it and make up your own mind. If not, he has the first piece of this book up at his site for free, so you should at least go read that.
Smoo #3 Preview
Last time around I asked Simon about the preview and the “1/2” issue, and he had good reasons for both.Â Actually, the full edition of #3 is out now, so you could just get that and skip this entirely.Â So why am I talking about it?Â Two reasons: I’m in a rush (it’s a little thing) and I don’t have a copy of #3 yet and wanted to remind you all that he has a new issue out.Â Hey, but aren’t I the guy who complains about people who rush out books for cons?Â What’s the difference between that and my rushing out a review?Â One thing is a piece of art, the other is… whatever it is that I do here, so it lands a bit low on the hypocrisy scale.Â Wasn’t there a comic somewhere in all this?Â A very tiny one, yes.Â This starts with Simon fantasizing about throwing his phone into a lake (ah, we’ve all been there), then musing on whether this is a fad or a piece of technology we’ll be stuck with for a long time, all in his own inimitable way.Â This is only a few pages but, like I said, the whole issue isÂ out now, so you should probably just go ahead and buy that one.Â How do I know that it’s worth it?Â Well, this is a great little story, and it’s not like he’s done anything awful yet, so let’s call it a leap of faith.
Smoo #2 1/2
What the heck?Â 2 and a half?Â That wouldn’t be so bad, but the next issue in the pile o’ comics Simon sent is a preview of #3.Â I don’t make the rules or anything, but I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to have two issues between one issue number.Â This one is called the “odds and sods” issue, as it supposedly only has bits and pieces of things.Â Still, if you go into this expecting a sketchbook or something without a bit of genuine storytelling, that’s not the case at all.Â He could have just slapped a “#3” on it and I would have been none the wiser.Â Stories in here include a personal rumination on a night spent in a hotel room (and how he was unable to go out and enjoy the town due to feeling guilty about everything), a drunken bar conversation about the baffling behavior of one woman in particular (and the proposed mental sweepers to keep their brains free from “emotional debris”), Simon’s thoughts as utter nothingness, and a winter trip to see Mount Etna in Sicily that seemed to be poorly planned in every way but still a profound experience for him.Â OK, maybe the issue was a bit shorter than his other offerings, so I guess that’s where the “1/2” comes from.Â I still think he could have gotten away with calling it #3, and if you’re already a fan of his work this isn’t something you should miss.
Ah, the quiet, contemplative comic.Â They seem to be harder to come by these days, although that could be my imagination, or perhaps just my lousy memory.Â This one is a series of short pieces that all more or less blend together.Â Things start with Simon needing a change and going for the easiest one: haircut and growing a beard.Â Stories after that include visiting a stranger’s grave, exaggerating your qualities while telling stories about yourself to strangers, the nature of time and worrying about the future, the inability to really remove yourself from the world, Simon’s sudden memory of killing a small wounded animal as a child as something he thought of as a kindness, and the brief space right after a fight with a girlfriend when things could go in any of a number of directions.Â The stories have more variety than you might think from those basic descriptions, as Simon regularly populates stories with images and/or demons from his mind.Â The art is quietly impressive without being overbearing, as it seems simple enough until you really start to pick at it, then you can see that there’s plenty going on.Â None of that lazy, “I’ll just skip the backgrounds” nonsense going on here.Â Anyway, it’s worth a look, although it’s always at least mildly worrisome when the most recent book from somebody was done over a year ago.Â Or worrisome to me at least, as it seems like minis build up a momentum of their own and once they’re left alone for too long that momentum never comes back.Â No price, but let’s go with $3 for no reason.