Friday, 3 April 2009

A very special Blossom - Matt Furie's Boy's Club

I’ll bet Aesop never thought it would come to this. Boy’s Club, the comic creation of American artist Matt Furie, is the logical extreme of comics anthropomorphism, a free-for-all melee of hipster attitude and male bonding, all cloaked in a gaudy sheen of post-modern irony and pop culture referencing. The comic details the everyday antics of a quartet of lovable, brightly coloured slackers - hot dog-loving Andy (“my bad, fellas!”), video game addict Brett, pizza fiend Pepe and the ultra-hedonistic Landwolf – who contend with everything from dust mites and infested leftovers to monumentally bad drug trips with no more than sarcasm and a delirious, half-baked grin at their disposal.

There is no narrative thrust or attempt to give these bug-eyed goofballs any context or back story, and all we are given as readers are short bursts of non-sequitur activity occurring in barren interiors. But from these spare elements, Furie creates a vivid and immediate world for his characters. The world of Boy’s Club is gleefully devoid of anything resembling reality, it’s a place where brightly coloured animal hybrids congregate to play video games, read each-other’s t-shirt slogans (my pick is Pepe’s “Nobody Knows I’m A Lesbian” shirt), feed cereal to stray birds and then sleep off their hangovers. It’s practically a male paradise, a cocoon designed for maximum loafing and entertainment, isolated from any responsibility – the only reason concerns are where the next slice of pizza will come from. This happy-go-lucky world of arrested adolescence might only be diverting for a few moments if it weren’t for the strength of Furie’s writing and deceptively detailed art.

Furie invests each character with a distinct physical presence from Brett’s loose-limbed athleticism to Pepe’s comically splayed hands and feet, without the need for much in the way of commentary. Indeed, the absence of dialogue lends the an air of silent comedy that plays itself out in choice panels of surrealist fun, notably where the others prod Andy in the back of the head with an unfeasibly long hot dog. There is an overall stillness to the comic that allows the reader to dwell upon every page and panel at their own leisure, whether its Brett’s fashion model antics to Landwolf’s semi-naked indoor skateboarding, or Andy’s skin melting off his face in a clear homage to Robert Crumb. The pop culture references from across the two issues are arbitrary and wide-ranging, from the aforementioned Crumb tribute to “The Neverending Story” (Andy transmogrifies into Falkor the Luck Dragon over six expertly drawn panels) to Michael Jackson via Brett’s pelvis dance routines.

These might be lost on younger comic fans and are surely intended for thirty-something readers like myself to enjoy, and are ramped up in issue two to include macabre internet surfing, a brilliant deconstruction of Alanis Morrisette’s “Ironic” (beating that horse of a song to death never gets old – ever) and a spectacular page of Landwolf drug use that manages to invoke TV sitcoms “Sister Sister” and “Blossom”, one hit wonders Four Non Blondes AND the immortal “My So-Called Life”! (To digress on “Blossom” for a moment: I always wondered what the hell possessed Dr. John to record the theme song for the appalling show. You know, Dr. John, “The Night Tripper”, the piano mage of New in the hell did he end up so down on his luck that he had to resort to hack work like that?!? It’s not as if he tried to write anything lasting or memorable, unlike John Sebastian’s wonderful title song for the TV show “Welcome Back Kotter”. That song was irritating and as smug as Blossom herself. I only watched it for Six, naturally).

My favourite of the bunch is Landwolf, his selfish, drug-fried immaturity is in stark contrast to the wild-eyed exuberance of the others, but he continually gets his come-uppance at the hands of various substances which are the most bizarre aspects of the comic – his transformation into a real wolf in issue is genuinely unsettling. For me, Boy’s Club is ultimately an exploration of male friendships, the seemingly casual interactions and escapades of the characters connote the very real bonds that tie people together, and that have a resonance that is often hard to judge at first glance. We all know what we’re really saying when we use pop culture shorthand or crack a very bad joke to our best friends, we’re invoking an unspoken, secret language that can only be fully understood if you’d spent years in the company of that person. It is this knowledge that gives Boy’s Club its special and universal charm.

Review by Kevin McCaighy.

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