Snake Pit 2009 by Ben Snakepit

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Snake Pit 2009
By Ben Snakepit
Birdcage Bottom Books

bensnakepitsnakepit2009coverThere are plenty of reasons to keep a diary strip. For some it’s a strict daily regiment, an attempt to hone one’s craft through constant practice. For others, it’s an exercise in memory, a graphic project that keeps separate days that would otherwise almost certainly blend together, engulfed by the fog of time. Viewed on a long enough timeline, however, one eventual reason seems to inevitably emerge: sheer habit.

After nearly 10 years, it’s a justification that has seemingly ensnared Ben Snakepit. It’s a theme that runs through the author’s somewhat defeated intro to this latest volume of daily strips. “Skip ahead 10 years, and everyone and their mother has a MySpace and a Facebook and a Twitter and a Blogspot,” writes Snakepit, “and the idea of recording and sharing what I did every day in three panels doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.”

Of course, fans of Snakepit’s work likely won’t find anything too surprising in the author’s lunges toward self-effacement. He’s never particularly been the biggest champion of his own work, acting generally baffled that anyone might find something to love in the minutiae of his daily life.

Yet there’s something here that even the most devoted fans haven’t seen before: the strains of finality. “You’ll probably read a few hints in this book alluding to a finite end for Snakepit,” writes the artist. “This may or may not happen, but there’s no need to dwell on the future.”

Roughly three-quarters through the book, Snakepit offers his most blunt allusion. “I just don’t have the same passion for drawing [the strip] as I used to. I don’t feel like I’m getting anything out of [it] anymore.” The strip, from 9/9/09, even goes so far as offering a potential date for the final panel: 12/13/10, exactly 10 years after the drawing of the first Snakepit strip. It’s hard to blame Snakepit, of course—10 years is a long time to do just about anything on a daily basis.

Getting back to that initial justification, Snakepit always seemed to fall into the latter category, drawing a diary strip more focused on the diary part of the equation—a cataloging of daily thoughts and occurrences. Without discussing the matter directly with the artist, it’s hard to say whether the art also intended to use the strip as a platform for improving his craft, but judging from the fact that the visuals have also seem—at best—secondary to the text, it’s hard to imagine that he ever harbored grand ambitions in that regard.

Nearly 10 years ago, Ben Snakepit embarked on something exciting, drawing a three-panel distillation of his life, every single day, without break. Now, thanks to the arguably too-open nature of the Internet and its various “social” platforms, the rest of the world has caught up with him. Those who can draw (and plenty who can’t) have chosen to express themselves through their own diary strips. The rest of use do so through Twitter and Facebook and the like.

Snakepit, meanwhile, has maintained a devotion to print, releasing (through various publishers) a yearly collection of his strips. He’s joined the online print world, as well—interested parties can find him on both MySpace and Twitter. In January of last year, he launched a podcast. And then there’s the perpetual distraction of real life: a job, girlfriend, two bands, and a dog.

Surely none of us would like to see Ben Snakepit call it a day, but if he did, it would be hard to fault him.

In the meantime, however, he’s still got—at the very least—the better part of 2010 to produce new strips. For those who haven’t discovered Snakepit yet, now would be the ideal time to do so—perhaps even squeezing a few more months out of the guy.

For the time being, the rest of us have Snake Pit 2009, the story of a 34-year-old record store manager in Austin, Texas, who generally seems pretty content with his life. It’s a contentment that, perhaps, will prove the final nail in the Snake Pit coffin. In a sense, we’ve already been allowed to glimpse a chapter or two beyond what is normally offered up in punk rock literature.

It’s a pretty good life, from the looks of it, and in Snakepit’s own assessment, it doesn’t translate into especially exciting reading. But thrills have never really been the point of Snake Pit. The point is real life. And for better and worse, Snake Pit 2009 is lousy with the stuff.

–Brian Heater