SPENT reviewed by The Maneater

“Joe Matt puts personal issues to paper” / The Maneater / Michael Quartano / December 7, 2007

Joe Matt is a master of masturbating— he claims to have whacked it 20 times in less than seven hours — and graphic novels. Matt’s latest semi-autobiographical work, ‘Spent,’ chronicles his bedroom adventures.
In the world of mainstream comic books, Joe Matt isn’t a big name. You will not walk into Rock Bottom Comics and be able to find a Superman or X-Men issue penned or drawn by Matt. Instead, one has to look in the overlooked and unseen books section to find anything Matt’s released.

“Spent” is Matt’s latest work and is put out by super indie publishing company Drawn & Quarterly, whose only real competition might be Fantagraphics, and that isn’t saying much. For people who prefer to think of comics in the high-art sense, these publishers are the best. But for the regular funny-book readers, “Spent” is no Spider-Man.

Matt has some personal issues to deal with in “Spent.” The autobiographical book follows Matt as he lives illegally in Canada in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Matt works as a cartoonist for Drawn & Quarterly. Matt rarely proves his love for his employer, as he spends more time hoarding coveted items from his friend Seth than he does putting pencil to paper and creating something worth reading.

Readers might find themselves disgusted with Matt’s character, and that might be exactly what he wants. Matt leads a rather lonely life with only three friends, none of whom he gets along with. The people Matt interacts with more or less use him just as he uses them.

There is Matt’s pornography dealer, who Matt has rented reels upon reels of VHS porn films from. Then there are Seth and Chet, fellow cartoonists who are actually making something of themselves.

Matt spends his time dubbing and editing rented porn films. He records all of his favorite scenes onto one master tape, editing out any scenes he finds unpleasing. During the latest dubbing session, Matt is up to tape No. 23. Matt might have a problem.

As someone who spends little to no time doing actual work, Matt finds himself to be rather poor and lives his life in a boarding house where he shares a bathroom with at least three other people. Matt likes his privacy, so rather than venture out to the bathroom in hopes that he won’t confront any of his housemates, Matt would rather urinate into glass jars he keeps in his room. Additionally, Matt rarely leaves his room and spends his entire day masturbating to all of his rented porn. At one point in the book, Matt decides to try to break his personal record and ends up masturbating 20 times over a span of 6 1/2 hours. Matt has too much time on his hands.

“Spent” follows a strict art format. There are eight panels per page in two columns of four. No panel is the same, and the borders are often times disjointed and misshapen.

It is the art inside the panels that excuses Matt to publish such a self-engrossed piece of work. The entire book is drawn in black, white and different shades of green. Matt’s inks bring out the sparse backgrounds of the book and highlight the simple yet elegant characters. As this book is mostly about people conversing with each other, most every panel is only half-filled with art, and the rest of the space belongs to speech bubbles.

Overall, “Spent” is a book not suited for cape-and-tights fans of comics. But if you’re looking for something different and deeply personal, the work of Matt might be right up your alley. Just wash your hands after you put it down.

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