Saturday, October 08, 2005

I am not a dove

Review: "Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?"
by Liz Prince
Top Shelf, $7

Proving that there is a Peanuts cartoon for just about every emotional response, I finished Liz Prince's new comic, "Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?" and immediately thought of the perfect Schulz comic to encapsulate my feelings toward the book.

Unfortunately, I can't find the strip in my collection (thought I know it's there somewhere) so I'll just have to try to describe it for you, which will no doubt be a lot less effective.

Anyway, in the strip (done in the early 80s) Snoopy is trying to figure out what sort of bird Woodstock is and he suggests that maybe he's a dove.

"Oh, when you're a dove," he exclaims, "Everything is just so nice. It's all just so wonderful and sweet and ... LOVE."

Upon which Woodstock gives Snoopy a boot in the ass.

"Ok, so maybe you're not a dove," Snoopy thinks.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not a dove.

Smith's small, $7 volume is cutesy autobiographical comics at their most insufferable. I understand what she's trying to do here. It's an attempt to show all the goofy things young couples do when no one's looking. Heaven knows I've been just as silly with my wife during intimate moments. I never felt the need to put them into a comic before though.

The book is a series of one-page vingetttes, all involving Liz or her boyfriend Kevin doing something absolutely adorable, and usually involving jokes about breasts, erections or going to the bathroom. Prince has a simple, clean style, but she mars it here by not removing her initial pencil lines and roughs. I imagine that was to give the book a rougher, more off-the-cuff feel, but it makes more than a few strips hard to read initially.

The main problem with this book is that there's no bite to it at all. Jeffrey Brown provides the intro, and James Kochalka does a little caricature of Prince in the back, suggesting perhaps, that they're all working in the same vein.

They're not though. Brown's autobiographical comics aren't afraid to show the awkward moments and self-destructive behavior that mar young relationships (though, to be fair, Brown's books are all about failed love affairs). And while Kochalka is by no means afraid of being cute, he also isn't afraid to show himself in a bad light. For every strip in his diary about him being adorable with his wife and kid, there's an equal one of him losing his temper, hurting someone's feelings or just being vain.

And it's exactly that sort of balance that Prince's book needs. There's no scenes in "Bed" of Liz and Kevin fighting or having misunderstandings or just getting mad at each other or any of the other negative stuff that couples do when they're not being cute. Prince may have felt that to portray such aspects of her relationship with Kevin may have been beyond the scope and goals of this meager book, but without it, it's terribly shallow.

"Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed" is an example, perhaps the foremost example right now, of how the "cute aesthetic" has dominated the alt-comix scene lately. Too many up and coming cartoonists seem to feel that a "cute" book is, in and of itself, a noble aspiration. Something worthy of documenting. A valid emotional response that's gotten a bad rep and needs to be celebrated more. It's not. Cute can work very well, when placed within the context of a larger, more thoughtful work. Or perhaps even as a scattershot, get in get out gag. But a book that merely strives to be cute and nothing else exists on one level and one level alone, and it's not a level that sustains reader interest or rewards repeated readings.

For a similar, less caustic take on this book, check out Jog's review here. To read a favorable review, check out Joanna Draper Carlson's review here.


At 11:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Jamie Hunter

At 3:24 PM, Blogger Jhunt said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on "..Wet the Bed". I'm still debating buying it for my girlfriend for Xmas. She likes Andi Watson books, but this might be a little too cutesy for her. Maybe I'll see if they have it in stock at the shop and I can give it a once-over.

At 9:10 PM, Blogger Chris said...

I showed the book to a few of my female co-workers as well as my wife and they all agreed it was more surypy than a bottle of Vermont Maid. Doesn't Andi Watson have a new series out? You could grab back issues of that for xmas.

At 4:15 PM, Blogger Joe Rice said...

I feel bad, really.

I'm sure Liz is a really cool person to know. I'm glad she's so in love.

I don't need to read about every cute moment, though.


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