I’m Not From Here
by Kenn Minter
Near Mint Press
Modesty, dear reader, has no place in autobiographical comics.
Let the demure write fiction, and sew their own experience into a quilt of monikers and fantasy and fraudulence. Fiction’s not real, but it’s readable and tasteful to some. Still, I like the grotesque honesty of autobiography, and I want to see it at its best, which is why today I’ll pick a little on Kenn Minter‘s book I’m Not From Here.
An autobiographer is a special animal, my favorite beast. He needs to lay all his fleshy terribleness on the page without excuses, and if he can’t, he should go back to storytelling.
I’m Not From Here clearly promises “slightly embellished autobiographical comic strips,” but it falls flat as just another weak foray into the genre.
The backbone of autobiography is made up of honesty and openness. When the autobiographical cartoonist gets too protective of himself or the people in his life, it’s a disservice to the story and the reader. So while there’s much to enjoy about Kenn Minter’s book, it could also be seen as an example of what not to do in autobio cartooning.
Today’s autobiographical cartoonist reaps the benefit of living in a post-American Elf world. They should realize it and be thankful! But instead, some make apologies and constantly cover up truths. The subtitle of Minter’s book says it, the publishing information re-hashes it (The stories, characters and incidents mentioned in this book are embellished or entirely fictional), and even the title implies dissociation from the events inside. It’s understood that we shouldn’t take Minter’s book at face value, so the repetitive reminders are overkill and even insulting to a sophisticated audience familiar with the framework of autobio.
Here is a summary list of autobio’s basic tenets: characters have fake names so the real people don’t sue, time is not fluid or real-time, imagination will be anthropomorphic, one’s physicality is not a perfect copy of reality. So, when Minter says his autobio comics are “slightly embellished” that statement is already redundant and it definitely doesn’t excuse the more obscure stories.
For instance, there’s a one-page story about “Big Eyes,” a girl he’s seeing who returns from a trip only to leave him again. The comic is a brief three-panels, and in it just one thing is established. A girl leaves, maybe because she was gay or maybe because she met someone else, but he doesn’t say why. It’s a total throw-away story for the book that never gets mentioned again, but it probably means everything to Minter, which is why he kept so much of it to himself. But that’s what bad autobio is! Because autobio is all about letting people in, secrecy is against the nature of the genre. In the “‘Big Eyes’ returns” story, he intentionally left the audience out – an autobio no-no.
I’ve given this a lot of thought, discussed the matter with experts in the field, and come to the conclusion that autobiographical comics are like your first girlfriend. She doesn’t need to be pretty, she just needs to put out.
It’s the reason why Jeffrey Brown’s comics are a mainstay of the genre. The frail, child-like drawings weren’t so tough to look at when the promise at the end of the page was a guy’s heart ripped biannually from him by some girl who was supposed to make it alright. What’s remarkable about books like the girlfriend trilgoy, is that they let readers into the author’s private circle. Brown does this by including details that aren’t flattering to his ego and even make him look like a pathetic jerk sometimes. It’s brave and it’s pleading to be understood, but it’s only these things because the author didn’t play carrot and stick games, which is the bane of most autobio flops.
Joe Matt tells us every despicable thing about himself, and even though we won’t shake his hand for the memory of where it’s been, we love him for it. The ultimate truth is that to write a good autobiographical comic book, you’ve got to be honest and a little self-destructive, and Minter didn’t prove in this book that he has the chops.
Autobio isn’t for everyone. That’s the conclusion.
Luckily, Minter is a fabulous artist and has work available in other genres. In I’m Not From Here, the black lines and gray fills move nicely on the page. He has an eye for framing things and picking the right angles – he just won’t tell you his girlfriend’s name. You can even give I’m Not From Here a whirl and decide for yourself if it plucks your sympathetic, voyeuristic heart strings.
- Sarah Morean