Eye Weekly reviews SPENT

“Loads of Loathing” / Eye Weekly / Chris Randle / May 3, 2007

His self-absorbed surrogate probably wouldn't realize it, but Joe Matt's new book, Spent (Drawn & Quarterly, $22.95, 120 pages) works as an accurate metaphor for its backdrop of mid-'90s Toronto. The cartoonist's pathetically needy masturbation addiction is pretty much what Mel and co. were doing on behalf of the whole city – Matt's just forthright about it.

References to Cora's Pizza and Sook-Yin Lee aside, the city is not so much a setting in this book as a prison, making our pervy hero's neuroses grow out of control. As the comics critic Joe McCulloch put it: “Matt is spookily good at portraying how external elements in his environment manage to twist themselves in his mind toward pornography.” Matt meets his “connection” for the porn videos he obsessively edits together at the Jet Fuel Café. He ogles a teenage girl while hanging out with fellow cartoonists Seth and Chester Brown (in the book's best scene, with the elder statesmen of Toronto's alt-comics scene bickering as only friends can).

You may ask: why read about such a repellent personality? Because even when Spent edges towards autobio-comics parody – with the self-aware, self-pitying Matt noting “it's not even a story... just page after page of me whining about porn” – it remains inexplicably compelling, a portrait of sweaty insecurity rendered with precise visual storytelling and funny, expressive cartooning. The ongoing series collected here is called Peepshow, after all. That's what Matt offers: a chance to get up close and voyeuristic with humanity's more repulsive aspects, without the need to actually be in the same room as a guy jerking off 20 times in a row. His avatar might call these comics “half fabrication,” but they still stink of honesty.

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