Let's talk comics. Sad comics, specifically. After all, comics aren't just for kids any more, and I'm very interested in the darker side of things. This isn't much of a surprise – I started out as a strange, morbid child reading 19th century children's novels (the kind where someone dies of scarlet fever or typhus once every twenty pages or so), graduating onto Will Self and Don DeLillo and all kinds of disturbing postmodern shit by my early teens. Not to mention a meandering detour through the sad lady novelists of the last fifty or so years, from The Bell Jar and Girl, Interrupted through to Prozac Nation. I prefer my melancholy anatomised and my demons noonday. The sad comics were waiting for me, and I was waiting for them. But there were obstacles standing between us. Mostly the fact that I'd spent those dour teenage years modelling myself as a serious student of literature, and then went straight from that youthful posturing to fancying around in a ludicrous neoclassical enclave. I meant serious business, and comics were not serious business. Oh, sure, I took the odd foray here and there. I delved into the Sandman series in my second year, smugly appreciating the Shakespeare-y bit, and someone forced Watchmen into my hands about six months before the film came out. I liked both comics a great deal, but had no idea there was more (equally good, much sadder) stuff out there. I had no one to curate my first tentative steps into the world of comics, and no real idea where to begin.
Fortunately, all of that changed at the beginning of 2011. A dear friend gave me a copy of Fun Home, and it legitimately changed my life. Fun Home was my road to Damascus. The scales fell from my eyes. Until that moment, I'd had no idea that comics could be so good. Or so sad. It became my litmus test – my Bechdel test, almost, if that weren't already something awesome – and I spent the rest of the year trying desperately to find something sequential that pushed every single one of my buttons in the same way. It took a lot longer than it should have to properly plug into the specific kinds of comics that happen to get me going, which is mostly the reason I want to write up some reviews and do a bit more exploration of the subgenre: so that today's sad kids can find more of the good stuff and less of the less good stuff*, and more quickly.
Since then, I've been very lucky in finding comics which hammer on my sad, sad buttons like nothing else. Stuff which lights up every miserable neuron the way Fun Home did when I first tore through it in the space of an afternoon, gasping at every crisp, unhappy turn. And I want to share them with the world – few are as well-known as Bechdel's recent work, but many are just as good.
After all, misery loves company. So join me. Let's dive into the slough of despond.
*There are plenty of comics out there which look or sound, on cursory inspection, like sad comics. And yet they are not. It's a dangerous liminal space, and I'd like to guide as many miserable children through it safely as I can.