Monday, December 15, 2014

Noah Van Sciver's Wasted Youth

Noah Van Sciver is a Denver-based cartoonist who has been working for some time, and in the past couple years began receiving more attention. I remember hearing his name here and there last year, but it wasn't until this year that I got to know his work, thanks to Fantagraphics' Tumblr page, where they would occasionally reblog some of his own posts. I think it was a diary comic that got my interest, as I'm a fan of those. After that, I started following Sciver online, and finding out more about his work.

His latest book, YOUTH IS WASTED (AdHouse Books), is a collection of short stories originally published between 2010 and 2013, as far as I can tell. Most of them appeared first in his one-man anthology, Blammo, though some of them came from various anthologies. The book is pleasantly designed, and includes author's notes on every story, which is always appreciated, and an introduction by his brother, DC Comics artist Ethan Van Sciver. It's interesting that both brothers chose careers in comics, in such different ways.

There is a total of 15 stories in this book, and they are a great introduction to Sciver's work. Though there is no shortage of comics about mundane and personal stories these days, a lot of them seem to not hit the spot for me. Sciver hits it way more often than misses it, offering honest, brutal, and sometimes amusing portrayals of common people. He is open about his admiration for R. Crumb and the influence shows, but at the same time, his stories read very differently than Crumb's. I would say Sciver is gentler than Crumb, whether he likes it or not.

Sciver's characters are largely losers, by his own admission. He is interested in the underdogs, people who have known loss, and still have to deal with it. He's attracted to the moments when things go wrong, to the small failures in our lives. A cynic might accuse him of whining or belittling his characters, but anyone with a modicum of empathy will know that is not the case. His stories simply express feelings that are more and more common in our generation, and offer a way of dealing with them, both for the reader, and, I suspect, the author.

My favourite story was "Because I Have To", in which a young man, still coping with the death of his younger brother helps a little girl who got separated from her brother on Halloween night. It's a very touching tale with small toucher of humour that work very well together. My least favourite - the only one in this collection I didn't care for, really - was "Punks vs. Lizards", which I might've liked if it was maybe two pages long. Still, I'm glad it was included in this collection, as it helps present a very wide range of stories by the same author. He goes from the silliness of "Punks vs. Lizards" to the bleakness of "1999", stopping by one-page nihilistic experiments and fairy tale adaptations along the way. And most of it works.

Excerpt from "Because I Have To"

Noah Van Sciver's art is an acquired taste. It didn't please me at first, I must confess, but the more time I spent it with, the better I started liking it, and the more it seemed to fit his stories. This book also registers his improvement as a draftsman and storyteller. The stories are not organised chronologically, but every story is dated, and one can notice the evolution of his art style through those four years. And from following his Tumblr page (which I recommend, also because he is often very funny online), I know he is still improving, refining his art more and more.

Besides YOUTH IS WASTED, Sciver put out in 2014 another book: THE LIZARD LAUGHED (Oily Comics). He already has two books scheduled for 2015: SAINT COLE and FANTE BUKOWSKI, both to be published by Fantagraphics. The latter was all posted on his Tumblr as he progressed, and you can still read it over there (though it might be a tad inconvenient to track the pages down).

Most of my favourite cartoonists that tackle these subjects that interest Noah Van Sciver take an awful long time to put out new work, so it's nice to see a young cartoonist on his way to join that select group being so prolific. I highly recommend YOUTH IS WASTED to anyone who's ever felt like a loser, and enjoys reading about common people.

1 comment:

  1. I must confess I'd never heard of Noah Van Sciver until Marc mentioned him. I'll definitely be checking him out now.