Fantastic Life is Really, Really Real—or Is It? / by Spandexless

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by Jake Grubman Marc Sobel of the Graphic Eye did an interview with Kevin Mutch a few months before Mutch’s Fantastic Life was printed with a Xeric Grant in early 2012. It came just after the book was selected for Alison Bechdel’s edition of the Best American Comics, and it is about as wide-ranging and interesting as these kinds of interviews get, for my money.

Mutch hasn’t hit the big time yet, but in that interview and on the pages of Fantastic Life and its sequel The Rough Pearl, you get a glimpse of a guy who is thinking and producing the way good artists do. These are both strong books, and they have me really looking forward to what he produces in the future.

One of my buddies and I have an ongoing discussion about the artistic process. Where does interesting art come from? From where in the artist does the best art come? (Understand that we’re at that (maybe gigantic?) fringe of the population that consumes a ton of art and dreams of producing some of it.) Which is why I loved this sentence in Mutch’s interview on the Graphic Eye: “I just constantly think about this stuff every day and it’s very unsettling.”

Right there, he’s talking about quantum physics, something I’ve thought about enough to watch four NOVA specials about it. (If you start with a blown mind when it comes to quantum mechanics, expect further mind blowing if you watch those things.)

What I love about that sentence—and the huge part of the interview dedicated to a discussion of the topic—is that his art is coming from a place of great honesty and genuine interest. I love that.

You can see a manifestation of his interest in quantum physics—and questions of reality itself—throughout Fantastic Life. On the surface, it’s a was-that-real-or-was-it-drug-induced-hallucination kind of story. Adam, the semi-autobiographical main character, goes from chapter to chapter trying to figure out exactly which of his conversations with various bra-less women and encounters with the paranormal are real. In the end, it goes meta, asking what’s “real” about reality; Mutch even makes a cameo, eating the flesh of his character and positing some interesting ideas about how “real” anything is.

The Rough Pearl isn’t a direct sequel, but it continues with many of the techniques and themes that made Fantastic Life an interesting read. We get an equally bitter, stupidly arrogant Adam who is at once totally relatable for his internal mutterings and struggles, but instead of wandering through a drunken, drug-induced stupor of stream-of-conscious happenings, he works a normal job and seems like he’d benefit from listening to David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” speech once or twice.

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I’d describe the artwork in these books as sufficient: It’s not going to blow you away, but it’s smooth and simple, and I think The Rough Pearl, in particular, has some strong artwork throughout. (And, as a side note, they’re in color online, but grayscale in print, which is what I was given to read. The Rough Pearl gains a bit of dimension with the blue spot color of the digital version, but grayscale works for both.)

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Still, I think the value in both of these books comes from Mutch’s curiosity and the manifestation of his thoughts on paper. I’m all for wondering whether the top is going to fall or not at the end of Inception, but Mutch’s comic is particularly interesting because he’s not just getting readers to wonder what’s real and what’s not. Rather, he’s asking philosophical questions about what reality is.

And, even if you’re not totally down with questions of quantum physics, Fantastic Life and The Rough Pearl are at least well-paced stories with effective characterization. Mutch separates himself from his comic self, Adam, by asking questions that his character can’t answer and providing answers and viewpoints that his character doesn’t understand. It's still a good read even if you don't have a philosophical bend.

I’m looking forward to future sections of The Rough Pearl, which Mutch is still producing online. Hopefully he can continue to channel his personal, intellectual curiosity through the medium.

TL;DR: A semi-autobiographical philosophical exploration of reality. A trippy read if you're into that and a solid piece of graphic work even if you're not.

Fantastic Life and The Rough Pearl are written and illustrated by Kevin Mutch. Fantastic Life was a 2012 Xeric self-publishing grant winner, and you can still purchase copies of the book through Mutch's websiteThe Rough Pearl is still ongoing and can also be found on his website.

Review copies of Fantastic Life and The Rough Pearl were graciously provided to Spandexless by the creator at MoCCA 2013.


Jake Grubman is, above all else, a beagle enthusiast. He has been a cart attendant at Target, pizza delivery driver, women’s shoe salesman, customer service representative, and English teacher in Malaysia. You can find more of his writing at The Chill and follow him on Twitter at @JakeGrubman.