SPENT in The Hartford Advocate

“A Life Unwell Spent” / The Hartford Advocate / Alan Bisbort / July 14, 2007

I once had a friend like Joe Matt, whose self- ppraisals could shock you with their honesty. All the while he pursued pleasure like a hamster in a cage, my friend Billy confessed to harboring fantasies of serial acts of sabotage. Billy once, for example, brought a party to a screeching halt by going outside, locating the host’s lawn mower, then rolling it onto the middle of the dance floor and cranking it up. When Billy began to “mow” the hallway, the host—and several of his large friends—ejected him from the premises.

Like Billy and I, cartoon artists Joe Matt and Seth are a mismatched pair of friends. Joe Matt is a porn- ddicted American who lives entirely in the moment, inhabits cheap, squalid digs in a grubby rooming house, sports ratty T-shirts and jeans, and carries his stuff around in a backpack. He’s not just a porn addict, he’s a porn connoisseur (e.g., “I liked her better before the implants.”). Seth is an effete Canadian aesthete who lives in the distant past, sports a necktie, button-down shirts, wire rim glasses and a fedora and smokes cigarettes in a way that recalls Humphrey Bogart or Jean-Paul Belmondo (his desired effect, no doubt). The two of them argue like Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in The Odd Couple or, more aptly, Andre and Wally in My Dinner with Andre. Each has a valid worldview— ather, makes a convincing case for why they think and act the way they do—but it is one that the other finds unappealing if not repulsive.

Does 120 pages of such parrying and thrusting between alleged friends—all of it depicted in meticulously rendered panels like a Peanuts comic strip—sound like it would be a bore?

On the contrary, it’s painfully funny and engaging enough to be read in one sitting, which puts you in danger of missing just how well done, artistically, it all is. Indeed, Matt’s Spent is both a cautionary tale (surely Matt isn’t this perverse…is he?) and a standup routine, a kind of comic book version of an Eric Bogosian character (if that’s not a redundancy). A reader can connect with his memoir, Spent, because they know Joe Matt and Seth. Joe and Seth are our friends, the ones we try to keep separate from one another. They are also the two sides of our own personality, the blissful pleasure seeker and the morbid philosopher, never satisfied with the things as they are and constantly bemoaning the dumbing down of everything.

Even as Joe Matt gets existential in his apologia for porn, his fixation reveals a truth that may be part of every addict’s psychological makeup: He’s terrified of women. As such, he is virtually unchanged since high school, when he shrunk from the agony of connecting with girls. Twenty years later, he still drifts from one girlfriend to another, in between months of solitary porn viewing. His philosophy, such as it is, is contained in this snippet of monologue: “Somehow I’ve managed to avoid almost all of the trappings of adulthood…A regular job…wife and kids…a house…a car.”

Alas, in Spent, Matt tells on himself. He really is as much of a romantic as his foil, Seth, who is just as frozen in time as Matt is, though he is pining for some distant past. This comes through in all of Seth’s exceptionally fine comic art as well, the best examples of which are It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken and Clyde Fans, both of which are also published by Drawn & Quarterly.

In fact, just go the Drawn & Quarterly’s Web site http://www.drawnandquarterly.com, order something (anything!) that piques your curiosity. It’s all good! Read it, then order something else. Support the supporters of Joe Matt. The life you save may be your own.

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