Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Matt Furie, Johnny Ryan, and The New Juvenilia

Oh dang, that was probably the most academic sounding title that’s ever popped up on Death-Ray Ozone.  Rest assured, I’m not here to talk to you about school.  You know how it works because you’ve been there:  School sux.  Homework sux.  Girls are weird.  And all I wanna do is hang out and blow shit up with my friends.

Discussions about both Matt Furie and Johnny Ryan’s work will eventually circle back to reminiscing about the doodles drawn in the margins of your English notebook in Junior High School while you were trying to look busy as your teacher droned on about The Giver or whatever, which I suppose is fairly accurate, but I think we can refine this discussion a bit further when we consider the idea that Ryan and Furie’s comics voices belong to the same young man at different stages of immaturity.

I like to imagine that Johnny Ryan’s voice in Prison Pit belongs to the ugliest, angriest twelve-year-old boy in the world.  He’s fascinated by blood and gutz, swearing is awesome, and the very idea of sex is a weird, gross mystery to him.  Prison Pit is the voice of the angry id-child in all of us, screaming for more violence, more cursing, more bodily fluids spewing out of EVERYTHING because it would be so cool if that happened.  That Prison Pit offers all of these with the added bonus of the violence begetting more bodily fluids, which in turn begets more cursing, which leads right back into more violence speaks to an indulgence that can only be enjoyed by kids with barely a shred of self-awareness and luxury yacht owners.

Matt Furie’s Boy’s Club has the same sort of immature indulgence, but the voice is a little bit older.  With Boy’s Club we’ve got a group of fine young anthropomorphic men who, through some sort of magic or clerical error, have managed to pay rent on a modest house where all they do is hang out, do all kinds of hallucinogenic drugs, and try on different hats and t-shirts.  The sense that I get from Boy’s Club is that Furie is using the voice of a young man who graduated from high school and just decided that he didn’t need to go to college because he was just done with going to school.  If Ryan’s Prison Pit is an angry twelve-year-old kid’s wish fulfillment, then Furie’s Boy’s Club is wish fulfillment for the burnout slacker crowd.  The same sort of indulgence is still there in Boy’s Club, but the priorities and tastes have *ahem* matured.  Blood and gutz have been supplanted by drugs and snacks, swearing is just a part of the day-to-day vocabulary, no different than a writer casually throwing in masturbatory asides, and girls are still a weird mystery, but at least they’re not so gross anymore?

It just occurred to me that with the exception of Ladydactyl in Prison Pit, there are no female characters in either of these books, which I suppose makes sense when you consider that the voices that Ryan and Furie use in their respective works are informed by the idea that girls still largely remain a mystery.  Ryan’s voice in Prison Pit sees girls as a mysterious other, not necessarily an opponent or a “bad guy.”  Since Ryan’s voice doesn’t know how to interact with girls, or even people at large for that matter, Ladydactyl is depicted as some sort of shrieking, irrational beast who is dealt with like everyone else is dealt with in Prison Pit: EXTREME VIOLENCE. 

Boy’s Club is a bit friendlier to women in the sense that women can’t be violently assaulted if they aren’t even there to begin with.  I don’t think there’s a single mention of a female character in Boy’s Club.  I suppose if we were to apply this to what this means for Furie’s voice in Boy’s Club, it would mean that Furie’s voice, via the boys of Boy’s Club, is not all that concerned with girls to begin with.  The characters in Boy’s Club are all too busy hanging out with each other to even consider what having a girlfriend would mean.  Hang out with only one person who’s probably only gonna be grossed out by my fart pranks and tremendous drug use?  Um, no dude, I’ll stick with the fellas.  You know, the guys that actually appreciate a good fart in the face.

What I’m getting at is that Prison Pit and Boy’s Club both tap into that id within us, but each work speaks to a different id with different priorities that change in us over time.  Both Ryan and Furie are skilled comics creators and artists who are able to expose that immaturity to us, the grown men and women of taste and a degree of class, and have it be simultaneously appealing and repulsing in the sense that we enjoy this, but we should know better, shouldn’t we?  Blood and guts are gross, drugs are illegal, and cursing isn’t polite.  

Girls, however, might still be a mystery.

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