There are few things any artist can aspire to so much as perfect formal control. That kind of control—the ability to make a creative decision, then have it produce the exact desired effect in its recipient—is about as good as it gets for an artist in any medium. It forms, with medium as vehicle, a perfect bridge over the gaps that normally impede human communication.
“The Long Story,” by Matt Furie. From Boy’s Club #3. Buenaventura Press, 2009.
"Perfect" is always a dangerous word to throw around, especially in criticism, but in terms of control, Matt Furie’s just about there. Boy’s Club could easily be cast off as ”stoner comics” (its whole cast is consistently high), but the craft behind it renders it successful on almost all counts. More specifically, it’s brilliantly effective and meticulously controlled, overcoming one of comics’ greatest challenges: a virtually flawless manipulation of time.
Regardless of your state of mind, Furie brings you right into his world. I’ve had friends enter this unassuming comic depressed, happy, drunk or high, and it’s worked the same wonders on every single one of them. They laugh at the same moments, read at the same pace, and all come away satisfied, but asking, still, for another issue. Of the books I’ve loaned to people, particularly non-comics readers, even Asterios Polyp, which took its artist a decade to create, hasn’t had so consistent a reception.
That opening, coming after a brief page introducing the book’s cast, then another with only the story’s title, sets the pace for the entire story. The control of time is elegantly manupulated in the rhythm of those pages, dialed back to the beat of Furie’s own slow and druggy metronome. The simplicity of the grid and the decompressed, methodical depiction of the action within it (the lighting of a cigarette) provide, not coincidentally, the perfect opening for Furie to work his magic.
The page, too, forecasts the entire book. The book trademarks in weed and toilet humor, with light, slow content that is perfectly easy to process. The simplicity of the lines and the consistency of the grid, too (every panel a squares or rectangle) feeds the reader a steady stream of carefully planned action, dialogue, and gags—letting each page breathe while drawing the reader in for the full experience.
And Furie’s careful, too, not to let things get boring—adherence to the grid doesn’t prevent small twinklings of innovation. The humor pulls the focus from the page, but the comic is littered with bits of formal play—like the lettering above crossing over panels, providing the illusion of a continuous sense of motion.
It’s nothing serious, granted, but Boy’s Club is great at being just what it is: unpretentious, clever, simple fun, nailing every single thing it could have hoped to accomplish. Gag humor may sound like a low bar to shoot for, but it’s more challenging than it sounds, and relies on hitting every mark most heavily associated with comics as a medium. Stoner comics these may be, but in the most basic and traditional of ways, what Furie hits on here might just be the essence of formal perfection.