Reading Joe Matt’s (Peepshow) comic, I felt a little uncomfortable. It’s an autobiographical comic that puts you as a fly on the wall for Joe’s love life, disjointed and unfortunate as it might be. What we’re seeing here is the physicality of neurosis, something made more intense by the fact that the author is the character. Some of the situations (running into fans, having them recognize themselves in later comics) are right out of Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor”, but set in the early 90′s instead of the seventies and eighties.
That being said, the writing itself was phenomenal. The depths of narcissism and neuroticism Joe finds himself in are honestly gut-wrenching. The character of Joe is not a hero, nor a real anti-hero. You really come to hate him through his relationship with his girlfriend, as he seems to openly insult her, his friends, and more. The deeply involved thought bubbles are a spiraling staircase of pity and judgement. Yet, throughout the book, you wonder if he is actually going to “get the girl.” His relationships seem so unhealthy and toxic, and yet, if only for grotesque curiosity, you wonder if he will ever find someone. He does some legitimately objectionable things here, but for some reason I rooted for him. Much apologies to Joe Matt, should he read this. I’d take him out for a beer, if I didn’t worry I’d end up in a book.
There is a tacit understanding that you should have reading this book. We are seeing through the looking-glass into the uncomfortably private parts of a relationship in the author’s mind. I would remind any potential reader that the glass may be a fishbowl lens. We’re seeing an exaggerated view of the relationship, after the fact. This is directly pressed on by a character later in the book. Keep a look out for it while you read: does Joe portray any character quite as harshly as he does himself?
The art is perfectly suited to the work. Drawn by Joe Matt as well, it’s an adult cartoon style, reminiscient of (but very distinctive from) the work of R. Crumb. The two-toned, vivid panels give the perfect tonal match to the writing right down to the fact that no character is ever quite as grotesque as the narrator himself. The book is well designed, a comfortable soft cover that is only slightly larger than a paperback book. I got the third printing, which had a fantastic (and very fitting) illustration for the back cover.
The Poor Bastard might be an exaggerated look into the life of a horny cynic, and it might not be for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a book about subtle monsters and the women (they wished would) love them.
TL;DR: “The Poor Bastard” is a perverse look inward to the life of an artist. If you can stomach uncomfortable closeness, pick it up.
The Poor Bastard is written and drawn by Joe Matt and published by Drawn and Quarterly. It compiles the first six issues of his comic Peepshow. Look for it at your local comic book store. If you can’t find it, there is always Amazon.