Back around 2001 or so, I spent my day as a temp for a financial firm, and while updating contacts and printing out documents, I also built up my career as a "net surfer." Now, this was before everyone was blogging. (I love how when you type the word blog or blogging, spell check still underlines it in red. Thus underlining the fact that blogging is still "newish" and was not around in force back in '01).
My favorite site at the time was New York City's Craigslist's "Missed Connections" board.
If you're not familiar with it, it's the message board to reach out to the "cutie" you eyed on the train but couldn't get the nerve up to speak to. (I think I started reading it in the hopes that I'd find someone desperately seeking me.) But rather, I found some of the most creative writing I'd read in a long time. Along with the typical "Missed Connection: Curly hair on L train, red shirt", you'd find, "Missed Connection with Air Conditioning." Or "MC: My Self-Respect," and a very well written and witty post would follow. This was hours of fun. I mean hours. (Shh…don't tell Beverly!)
It was one of the most active boards I've ever seen – until this really uptight and controlling freak started flagging anyone who posted anything that was not a true "missed connection." This person was so sure that someone was searching for them and was so angry about all these posts that would "clog up" the board. Which, you know, is not even possible.
Anyhow, I'm digressing in my digression.
Somewhere along the line, we all had the great pleasure of meeting Haiku Master Matt. Randomly, interspersed with all the MCs one would find a witty Haiku from the Master. They must have started as Missed Connections, actually, but eventually became haikus about what was presently occurring in life or on the board. So, a few of us joined in, writing Haikus. You know, the old 5-7-5.
But, lo. That is not all there is to Haiku-ing. One very special day the Master gave us a lesson via Craigslist (mind you, I think the Master was all of 19). He told us that not only should a Haiku be 5-7-5 or 6-8-6 – but the clincher is that the last line should always have a reversal. (Okay, there should always be the mention of a season, too). For instance:
Hot Summer Sweat drips
On my new white linen pants.
Move away fat man.
Okay, so I still suck at haikus. And that's what American Splendor reminded me of: bad haikus. Kinda disappointing. I'd built this series up in my mind. I mean, I'd heard of it because I remember that there was a movie by the same name, about the same comic, and I'd always meant to go see it. Haven't yet. Coincidentally, after picking it as my comic choice for this week, it arrived from Netflix.
May not. May just send it
back and continue with my Buffy marathon. Which I'm doing on my own, thank you very much.
I mean, here we are with these short stories. Sort of...about nothing. I mean, I guess they are about the life and times of Harvey Pekar. And that's cool and all. But its like these little snippets that you think are going somewhere, and then you get to the last panel and there is some attempt at reversal, but it just falls flat.
These days – and not that I know much about "the old comic book days" – but these days there are autobiographical comics everywhere. To all those writers: Good for you! I know it's hard to write. I know "they" always say to write about what you know. So, you write about yourself--but what we all finally learn somewhere along the line, and usually after a lot of therapy, is that most of us aren't that interesting. n the day to day that is, in a big picture sense, I'm sure we're all interesting.
I just attended Mocca. Got to see a lot of art, meet a lot of people, hear some people speak, including the passionate Frank Santoro. What was striking about hearing Frank speak as opposed to some others who spoke about their autobiographical comics – who were fine – was that I felt elevated by Frank. He spoke about symmetry, the Golden Mean and the overarching connection of all things. He spoke about being moved and inspired and how great art can affect us all. And I was left totally ecstastic by the experience.
And that's it. You can write a decent comic (or book, or magazine, or song), you can write a good one, or you can try to write a great one. And honestly, chances are if you're focused on yourself and talking about yourself its not going to be as, well, elevating to another person as your contribution to the world could be.
I mean, Harvey Pekar seems to have a lot to say about aging, the "new age" of computers, reviews, jazz and all his many thoughts on the subjects. But honestly? Total honesty? I got bored.
After reading Samuel Gaskin's Fatal Faux Pas, I was so struck by how great the medium of comic books are for getting ideas down. Ideas that may not be funny in mere conversation if you were to explain them, nor would they come across if you just wrote them, but commiting them to the page with word and picture seemed to be the exact right thing to do with ones thoughts. A great way to "collect" them. And so, I get what Mr. Pekar is going for in American Splendor – unfortunately I'd recently read someone who did it better, and so I am sad to report that I did not enjoy my long-awaited read.
-Nina Stone, 2008