Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sex, Drugs and Comic Books: The 120 Days of Simon Review

"The 120 Days of Simon"
Story and art by Simon Gärdenfors
Price: $14.95 (US)
Black and white; 10.8 x 17.8cm; 416 pages.
Published by Top Shelf Productions
Released: April 2010
Diamond Code: FEB10-1095
ISBN: 978-1-60309-050-6

Simon Gärdenfors is the first man to admit that he doesn’t come off as an angel in The 120 Days of Simon. A journal of the cartoonist/musician’s 120 days of self-imposed exile from home, the book shamelessly details a hedonistic trip of casual sex, drink and drugs, all done in the name of cartooning. Gärdenfors’ rules for his experiment were simple: no returning home and no more than two nights spent at the same place. Like a much sleazier comic book equivalent of the “for fun’s sake” adventures of comedian Dave Gorman, it’s the journey not the destination that is the draw here. Facilitated by a website posing the simple question "You want Simon to eat your food and crash on a mattress on your floor?", his couch-surfing (mis)adventures covered 53 towns and attracted mainstream media coverage in his native Sweden.

Simon's utilitarian inventory for his less-than-pragmatic trip

The action comes thick and fast, and maintains a furious rhythm of events throughout the book's 416 pages. Highlights from the 120 days are numerous and varied, and the comic manages to squeeze in a great deal of content. Featuring death threats, a deadly motorcycle gang, a stay with Hare Krishnas, a mescaline-fueled hallucinogenic drug binge, mugging, bed-wetting, concerts, television appearences and (not least) a couple of sacrifices to Norse gods, the book is nothing if not entertaining. Reading like a series of mini-adventures taking place within a larger one, Gärdenfors noted in a recent interview with us (found here) that the frenetic pace of the comic is intentional, and supplemental material was often put aside to avoid breaking the focus on the central project by making the book too long.

It's not all rainbows and sunshine for our party-loving protagonist though, and his misfortunes serve to make  Simon a more identifiable character to the reader. Running through the book are several plot threads that serve to humanise the Swedish celebrity, including financial woes, death threats from the brother of one of his sexual conquests, and the injuries received from a beating outside a Subway station. The most frequently referenced of these issues, however, is Gärdenfors' developing love for fellow-cartoonist Jonna Bjornstjerna. Simon's open belief that the project requires him to maintain his freedom as a singleton backfires when Jonna starts dating someone else. Acting in tandem with other unfortunate events, this moment becomes the lowest point of the comic's emotional geography and provides a very necessary balance that stops The 120 Days of Simon from becoming simply a book about youthful abandon. Little by little, consequence creeps into the protagonist's actions, causing the book to become much more satisfying as a result.

The moustache strikes again! 

Visually, the comic displays an expressive minimalism that combines classic cartoon characterisation with a modern sense of composition. There's a compelling familiarity in his drawing style that, to me, evokes comparisons to Fleisher-era cartoons as well as classic 8 and 16-bit video games (several of which appear throughout the course of the book). By his own admission, Gärdenfors is heavily influenced by the simplistic and stylised design of candy-packaging, and, at points, his characters resemble the iconic Japanese Milky mascots. Completely rendered in thick black lines, solid blocks of black or white and the occasional use of half-tone patterns, the comic has a measured and accessible look that is happily at odds with its realistic, sometimes vulgar, content. Admittedly, one of the most appealing sections of the book for me was the appendix that features depiction after depiction of Simon's hosts throughout his journey; illustrations that serve to showcase the deceptive amount of variation possible in his simple style.

Some of the many people who didn't quite make it into the main section of the book

In the context of publisher Top Shelf Productions' Swedish Invasion line of graphic novelsThe 120 Days of Simon is an interesting alternative to Mats Jonnson's autobiographical collection Hey Princess (reviewed here). Whereas Jonnson's book is about the slow-burning significance of personal development over time, Gärdenfors' is very much about seizing a singular moment in life for all it is worth. From start to finish, the 120 days move with a youthful momentum, existing in the present moment and only worrying about consequences when they appear. 

As a fan of a good old fashioned caper, I would recommended this book to anyone who is interested in stories that feature the everyday world being subverted into a place suitable for adventure. Available for pre-order now (link below), people everywhere are invited to celebrate youthful exuberance with Simon. As an added bonus, it manages to feature Norse gods much more effectively than Marvel's current Siege event can ever hope to.
We'll let you figure out the context of this image


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