The Daily Crosshatch on Joe Matt

“Spent by Joe Matt” / The Daily Crosshatch / Brian Heater / June 4, 2007

There are two good reasons to read a Joe Matt book. First, he’s a talented cartoonist, with a solid, quasi-cartoony line-style, and the ability to cull interesting stories from the banalities of his everyday life.

The second is Matt’s everyday life, itself. No matter what sort of existence you lead, there’s sure to be something in the artist’s autobiographical works bound to make you feel slightly better about it, being that someone out there actually possesses fouler habits than your own, or, at the very least, something on-par.

Sloth, lust, envy, greed, wrath—Matt runs the gamut in Spent, but fortunately, the artist stays clear of pride for long enough to create one of the most brutally honest autobiographical portraits in recent memory. Not brutal in the serial-killer/mass murder autobiographical sense—those stories are more often than not given to flights of fancy. Matt doesn’t do anything of the sort—in fact, over the course of Spent, he doesn’t really do much of anything at all, and as anyone who’s ever spoken with the artist can testify, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

A day in the life of Matt over the run of the book consists of editing together pornography for his personal collection (using two VCRs and narrating the delicate process to himself, all the while); breaking his own masturbation records (20 times in a day!); peeing into a jug, in order to avoid running into his much-hated housemates on the trip to his shared bathroom; and above all, avoiding work at all costs.

It’s tough to feel much sympathy for Matt—the only thing standing between the artists and a fruitful and intensely sought after career is his own violent opposition to anything remotely resembling work, but the artist, much to his credit, doesn’t attempt to elicit sympathy for the lackadaisical hole in which he’s buried himself. In fact, save for the occasional monologue, which seem fairly convincingly pulled from real-life anti-pep talks, Matt offers little in the way of reflection or apologies for his own behavior. There’s nary a lick of narration or exposition in the book.

A few flashbacks do break up the narrative, however, serving to demonstrate the moments that spurred the young Matt into his apathetically circular lifestyle, and for his litany of complaints to fellow cartoonists and diner-frequenters Seth and Chester Brown, Matt seems rather content with a life spent doing nothing in particular. By the book’s end, the artist had no real revelations, and has learned little, if any insight that he might be able to pass onto an audience, despite finding himself literally covered in shit.

Matt’s brand of honesty is among the most painful with which to bear witness, because, no matter how together any given reader might be, we can all see a part of ourselves reflected in his life. Spent includes some of the most telling glimpses into life’s banalities since the glory days of American Splendor, and like some of Pekar’s best work, the poor bastard happily invites us to laugh at him, rather than with him, knowing full well that, in life, we never get the last laugh, but if someone can get a few hearty chuckles or other comfort out of it, then maybe it was worth something, after all.

–Brian Heater

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