Perfect Example and Me

“Here’s my favourite comic; Ariel Shragg’s Potential”

Leeds’ Legends The Seven Inches like to sing. Whilst I do greatly enjoy Ariel Shragg’s Potential, today I would like to talk about one of my favourite comix, John Porcellino’s Perfect Example.

I couldn't find a picture where Ian holds up his hand drawn front cover of Potential

Named after a Husker Du song, this is an autobiographical tale  of the months before John P. finally decides to go to University, with all the aimlessness, girls and confusion that entails. It also has the added benefit of undiagnosed clinical depression. I think this perfectly encapsualtes the time for me, and is perhaps the one book I’ve most been able to empaphise/relate with/to . Even the author is referred to as John P. throughout…

It’s drawn in a very simple pared down style, which allows the story telling and emotion to shine through…. Actually if you want a proper review google the book, you’ll get a better idea from that than from me. I suppose I really wanted to use this as a springboard to talk about my own experiences. So the rest of this “review” is “Perfect Example is awesome and here’s what John Perry did when he was 18.”

So I was 18 ten years ago and remember, much like John P., being desperate to get out of my home town. From the start of my final year of school I think that’s what kept me going. He thinks, “I bet everyone in college listens to Husker Du” and that wasn’t far off for me. I didn’t know what to expect but assumed that everyone there would love Captain Beefheart and Neutral Milk Hotel. Obviously that wasn’t the case. It was mainly discovering the joys of laundrettes and listening to people talk about football – it being the year of Arsenal’s Invincibles. Actually I did have a housemate who was exactly like I expected but that’s another story…

Observe the following:

That was pretty much it for me. Except I didn’t realise this wasn’t normal. I remember when a mental health charity came to school in 6th form to talk about depression. They gave you a checklist to see if you had it. Things like “I think everything is pointless” or “I feel sad most of the time”. I laughed at it and commented to my friend “that’s what being a teenager is” and assumed that was just how everyone felt and these people were clowns. You can lead a horse to water…

As I turned 18 I became more withdrawn and yes, had increasingly growing crush on a girl. John P. also had this even having the guts to ask her out (I never did) but she starts going out with his friend, leading to some horrible “gooseberry” moments with the three of them. He starts seeing another girl and doesn’t know how to feel any more. I suppose I did start going out with the girl I liked in school. But, I will quote John P. again,

“I guess I should feel really happy… I’ve wanted a girlfriend for so long. But now it’s right there in front of me… It’s like I won’t let myself be happy…”

I may be making the book sound depressing and a downer throughout. honestly, it isn’t. I started writing this before re-reading and I’m still shocked by  how effortlessly excellent the comic is.He does this all with such an incredible lightness of touch and with such a simple style that his description of depression don’t seem depressing. I can only admire his honesty and lack of pretension.

For example here is an example of the text for one page:

Nothing ever comes out the way I’d hoped

Everything turns out wrong

Even happy things are somehow sad…

It’s like there’s nothing at all to depend on…

Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m alive”

I don’t know how other people would react to that but for me it sums up how I felt at 18 perfectly and married to the pictures takes on and becomes somehow beautiful. Maybe it’s just my relation to it that makes me enjoy it so much.

This is one of the covers of “Soap” our second album that I made from a scene in Perfect Example. John P. is hanging out with a group of friends and they all start drinking and having a good time. He doesn’t want to be there and isn’t drinking.  Good times. Again, I would’ve been the drunkest there but apart from that…

I think there’s a real poignancy to the work without any rose tint. He’s writing all in the present tense. He does tlak about things he enjoys;seeing friends who think everything else is ridiculous too (mine would Adam John Miller), hearing stories about Depression era America, the beauty of nature and stupid road trips. He enjoys them all but there is just an underlying sadness.

At one point at a party John P. asks;

“I wonder if life will always feel this strange?”

Good question.

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