Misery Loves Comedy
By Ivan Brunetti
Misery Loves Comedy reprints the first three issues of Ivan Brunetti’s Schizo, thankfully in their entirety. I say this not for the obvious reasons—sure it’s great to have the author’s classic series back in print again, all in one hard-covered, fancy pants collection—but rather because, unlike most trade paperbacks, the book doesn’t skimp on oft-neglect supplemental materials of the individual issues’ first editions.
I bring this up because, were I forced to pull a single page from the book that best summed up Brunetti’s early work, it wouldn’t be a selection of panels, or even the introduction to the collection, penned by an extremely patient and forgiving Chicago-based social worker, who explains the reasons behind Brunetti’s rather sparse ouevre. Rather, it would be a letters page. More specifically, the letters page from Schizo’s second issue. The notes collected on the inside cover are almost entirely composed by Brunetti’s contemporaries—some of the most notable names in the comics medium.
Assuming for a moment that all of these letters are indeed from the names Brunetti provides us with, despite some questionable quotables (‘You can always retreat into a complete fantasy world like I have,’ is attributed to Seth, who goes on to explain his love for Charlotte’s Web), the messages convey fairly accurately the precise amount of desperation lovingly squeezed into the first issue. Brunetti is let off fairly easily by some of the old guard, like Art Spiegelman (‘I enjoyed watching you suffer’) and Bill Griffith (‘Bitterness and self-loathing elevated to art’). Others pull fewer punches, like Kaz (‘…most of your stories are about two things: how much the world sucks and how much you suck. It does get a bit tiring after a while’) and Julie Doucet (‘Like there’s nothing left to live for!…It reaches a point it’s nauseating’).
The true sign that Brunetti managed to surpass the standard level of cartoonist self-loathing to new levels of transcendence, however, comes with letters written by Chris Ware (‘After reading your comic book, I had the overall impression that maybe I wasn’t such a bad guy overall’) and Joe Matt (‘Anyone that thinks I’m pathetic obviously hasn’t read your comic yet’). Testimonials like those are nearly as good currency for entrance into the pessimist hall of fame as a signed letter from Camus or Kafka.
These first three issues of Schizo combine the self-loathing of Matt and the depression of Ware with the me-against-the-world themes of Dan Clowes’s “I Hate You Deeply” and the absurd high-end lowbrow of Kaz’s strips. The bulk of the stories collected in Misery Loves Comedy read as one long rant, broken up by the manner of laugh-out-loud gag strips found in books like Haw! and Hee! Brunetti rails against himself, his Catholic upbringing, optimists, the world at large, and ultimately his own endless stream of complaints. At the hands of a lesser artist, the pieces would be contrived, or, at the very least perpetually trying. And while, with some of the longer stories, the latter is sometimes the case, as Kaz and Doucet so helpfully mentioned, Brunetti knows when to toss in a good natured strip involving Lucy Van Pelt donning a strap-on for a bit of a break.
Brunetti’s artwork is the real centerpiece of the collection. Even early on, the artist demonstrates himself to be incredibly proficient in a number of cartooning styles rivaled perhaps only by the likes of Crumb, Clowes, and Ware. Even in those occasions when Brunetti’s spleen wears a bit thin, the drawings, which take change so dramatically from piece to piece, keep things fresh. The collection of full-color strips, which combine good stand alone bits with some of Brunetti’s most stunning artwork, are surely the highlight of the book. Were “Scenes from a Comic Con” blown up to poster size, surely it would be hanging from the wall of every grouchy alternative comics fan across the globe [note to Fanta: Sign me up for the first print.]
Misery Loves Comedy is an incredibly focused collection of early work—perhaps a touch to focus for readers who might, you know, occasionally find something to appreciate in their surroundings. Those who find themselves doggy paddling through a sea of bile on a regular basis (surely not the minority amongst comics fans), however, will more likely spend the bulk of the cheering Brunetti on.