Garage Band by Gipi

Categories:  Reviews

Garage Band
By Gipi
First Second Books

GipiGarage Band is a slice-of-life book that anyone who’s witnessed (or lived) the drama that surrounds every garage band ever will find familiar. Italian artist Gipi’s new graphic novel captures in brilliant, evocative pencils and watercolors the hope, anxiety and, frenetic energy of a band during its occupancy of one particular garage. It’s a quick read, but, while you might initially be disappointed at how quickly you fly through the story, you might also find yourself paging through Garage Band again for quite a while after, soaking up Gipi’s considerable visual talent.

Gipi (Italian artist Giannini Pacinotti) creates panels filled with informal, rough-edged sketches—a perfect match for his four would-be-musician protagonists, who are also informal, rough-edged sketches. The raw, aggressive pencils give these kids a sort of half-finished look that seems just right for teenagers on the edge—of becoming adults, criminals, or even, just possibly, real musicians.

The band (which is never named) consists of a quartet of quickly defined, not-quite caricatures: Stefano, the disturbed rich kid who acts out; Alex, the not-too-bright one who lives with his overbearing mother and aunt and who probably only likes Nazi paraphernalia for the cool jackboot and trenchcoat look, not the fascism; Alberto, the kid whose father’s illness has made him neurotic; and Giuliano, the kid who might be too skinny, shy and sensitive to really belong in a rock and roll band–except that he’s got the garage and the obligatory girlfriend. Said girlfriend, Nina, rounds out the group, but she’s not in the band, and is really only a supporting character. For all that there’s not much more to the characters than that, each gets just enough backstory to be believable, if not particularly detailed.

Garage Band’s story sounds dramatic enough—the band’s amp blows just when they’re trying to record demo for an A&R guy Stephano knows, and they decide to steal one from the basement of a nearby church. In someone else’s hands, this could be a recipe for teen melodrama, filled with tension, infighting, stormy romance, run-ins with the police, and recriminations. And the characters do go through the wringer, but Gipi tells the story in a detached, unemotional way. From their point of view, the characters no doubt go through something pretty profound, but Gipi purposely downplays the big, obvious scenes–like the inevitable confrontation with the police–to the point where they’re almost laughable. Instead, he focuses on seemingly inconsequential scenes, like Alberto spending a mostly silent afternoon flying a remote control plane with his father, building them into beautiful little slices of life that mean far more than the soapy plotline that strings them together. These are great moments, but far more wistful and even sad then you might expect from a rock and roll graphic novel.

The book really catches fire during the band’s practices sessions. Gipi really shows us what he can do in these segments, which crackle with punk-rock energy; you can just hear early Clash or Stooges bootlegs playing in Gipi’s studio when he drew these parts. Each panel is inspired; if I could get one blown up to poster size I’d hang on my office wall next to the picture of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones onstage at some divey club.

Garage Band is, therefore, a story about teenagers, but it’s told from an adult point of view. He reverses expectations, downplaying the drama and playing up the tender, the emotional, and the unifying moments when the friends connect with through their music and leave behind their drama, which Gipi seems to imply is relatively important. At its best, the end result is amusing, melancholy, and dynamic. The problem is that in playing down what you’d expect to be the main arc of the story, Gipi also sets up a bit of an anticlimax. While it’s undoubtedly more true to life than if he’d wrapped up in a Tarantino-style hail of bullets, those looking for hyperreal punk-rock filth and fury will be disappointed. But if you’re the type who might enjoy a thoughtful, sometimes beautiful, sketch of slightly smaller-than-life band, give Gipi’s Garage Band a look.

-Sean Carroll

No Comments to “Garage Band by Gipi”

  1. Jen C. | March 19th, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    Way to go!

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