February 8, 2015

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Snakepit Split with My Stupid Life


Written and Illustrated by Ben Snakepit (Snakepit)
Written and Illustrated by Mitch Clem (My Stupid Life)
Published by Silver Sprocket

The long-running diary comic creator Ben Snakepit finally convinced fellow comics creator Mitch Clem to do a split zine drawing diary comics, originally just for the month of October, but eventually extended out to the end of the year. While Ben has been doing this since 2001(!), Mitch was very new to the concept, and it's definitely something that wears on him over the length of his side of the split, though he's a real trooper and makes it through to the end after all.

Diary comics are a funny thing. Basically, as the creator, you're agreeing to open up about your life on a regular basis, deciding what moment from a given day that you're willing to share. Given a daily routine, there's a real risk that you'll bore the reader, too, something that no creator wants to do. But it's the sharing that's the real key--a good, regular diary comics reader can spot a phony autobiography where the artist makes themselves look better than they truly are or omits anything unpleasant a mile away.

After getting a good feel for the range of diary comics out there, I've really moved away from them, because it's a difficult form to get right. But that doesn't mean I don't sample to see what's out there, as a well-done diary comic is something I really enjoy reading. The best take you by the hand and lead you into their non-fiction world, warts and all.

That's what I really liked about Mitch Clem. From the early going, he establishes that he's not going to keep things behind a veil of "making me look good." We see him drinking early and often, admitting he wishes he'd be allowed to pass as queer at the gay bar so he can be "cool," and even goes into a recurring theme whereby his girlfriend's parents insist he's cheating on her. There's an honest look at his health and how being a low-income person makes him unlikely to seek treatment, with a nervous quip that "I die at the end of this book, don't I?" Speaking of books, some strips are mini-book reviews, making for a nice change of pace. Clem feels very real to me, like a person I might know (and be friends with) in real life, who debates getting a dog, pushes off the things he wants to do, and really enjoys cheap food at minor league hockey games.

One of the things that Clem talks about is having trouble keeping up with the strip's daily grind, and that's understandable, because it's very intricately detailed for a diary strip. Most tend to focus on the main characters and light backgrounds, especially if they're scaled to be like small, newspaper-style strips. (Snakepit's are very typical in this regard.) On the other hand, Clem will show you individual comics on a rack, what's inside the baskets of the kitchen, or just how the roof of a house looks. That takes a lot of work, and honestly, really brought this one into focus for me. I think that level of detail helped a lot in being immersed in Clem's world.

That's not to say I did not enjoy the Snakepit half of the split. While the art style is definitely more simplistic, with thin lines, very little depth, and only minimal backgrounds, we are still able to understand and enjoy his world, too. It was fun seeing him transform himself and his partner Karen into Star Trek characters or represent himself as a pile of crap when he vegged out on video games. When we need to see things, like a box of books or a fireplace, Snakpit draws them in. Otherwise, we are given the people to concentrate on, following Snakpit across a recurring knee injury, a battle with his weight, and getting to see his book in print. Like Clem, Snakpit is honest, but he tends to focus more on the happy moments, like watching MST3K or chowing down on tacos. It was a bit harder for me to get into the groove of his stories, because I didn't feel as if he was letting me in as completely as Clem was. If one felt like what I might talk to a close friend about, the second half of the split was more the kind of conversation you have with a co-worker you like. It's pleasant, but I can't help but feel like I was missing out on more details.

This split was enjoyable to read. Though I liked Clem's section better for the reasons outlined above, I still didn't feel like I was reading tedium, and I didn't skip sections trying to look for the good parts. If you're a fan of autobio diary comics, this is definitely one to look for. If you're not, it might be a good place to start, as the differing styles will give you an idea of what to look for in the future when you're next at a zine fest or comics show.

You can also order a copy of this split online here.