Modernist Library: Blue Monday vol. 2 – Absolute Beginners

img338Title: Blue Monday: Absolute Beginners (plus webisode scripts)
Script: Chynna Clugston-Major (edited by Jamie S. Rich; intro to webiside scripts by Rich)
Illustration: Chynna Clugston-Major
Published: Oni Press, 2001; (original comic book miniseries, 2001)

You know, for some reason, I just didn’t like this increment in the Blue Monday series as much as i liked The Kids Are Alright. In general, the quality of the story structure is just as good, like like the fact that she’s developing the other characters a little more, and even introducing new ones, but here are the main issues i have with this:

The general plot for this installment is “Bleu gets humiliated by the boy who likes her”. OK, for a high-school setting and dramady, but the specifics are something I find kind of beyond the pale. As it’s such a central thing to this four-part book, I doubt it’s going to count as a “spoiler” to anyone who doesn’t expect a complete blank-slate for their stories, so I’m just going to say it: Alan and Victor, the primary supporting male characters in TKAA, covertly take a video of Bleu getting undressed and taking a bath, and quickly spread it around the school. Now, OK, this is set in the early 1990s, before even tame staples of childhood, like the naked-on-a-bearskin-rug photos of us as infants were considered “child porn”, much less a more-or-less fully-developed fifteen / sixteen-year-old young woman, who just happens to still be in high school, and since Alan and Victor are in her class, there’s no “pedo factor”, but for hell, this is just ineffably creepy on so many levels, and I can’t really get into it played for comedy in the way that it has been. Now, how the video incident played out, i can totally see within the realm of believability for 15-20-year-olds (I mean, hell, I did something similar in New Dance), but I dunno, maybe I’ve seen too much SVU lately to see the comedy in this sort of thing (at least when I did a similar thing, it played for drama).

I’m also pretty unfond of the character development for Erin O’Neill (who finally has a surname) morphing from The Good Bad Girl into a Bitch in Sheep’s Clothing. While it certainly lends to drama, this is not only a development I’ve seen several times before (and for clearer reasons than we’re given in this volume), it’s a development that’s pretty predictable at this point, and honestly, this was a character that I wanted to like as I was reading the first book.

While I like the new character of Rissa, she’s just sort of sprang on readers and feels less fleshed out that Erin was in the first volume; aside from how she’s drawn, we know pretty much nothing about her personality other than that she likes football (soccer, to Americans). Now, Ms Clugston addresses this, humorously, in a filler comic at the end of the fourth chapter, which is a nice touch.

Another positive is the “mini comics” in the margins. Having never seen this in anything but GN form, I assume at least some of these were added for the compilation into graphic novel, as there’s an “aside” about Clugston mislabelling a song by The Beat as being by General Public that lasts several pages, to much amusement. When the next edition comes out, she needs to point out that she misspelled “Dexys Midnight Runners” on a t-shirt Clover wears as “Dexy’s Midnight Runners” –no, seriously, there’s no apostrophe.

I was also really enamoured with the introduction of Seamus, a pwcca taking the form of a six-foot-tall otter and who is apparently only visible to Bleu and clover, though he can clearly interact materially and psychically with other characters, even though they can’t see him. Again, I’ve done something similar in Peacocks & Fairies, so this not only serves as a reminder to crack down on myself and schedule in more writing time, but now I’ve got confidence that this sort of thing has appeal to more people than myself (which is a nice thing for a writer trying to stay in booze money to learn).

So yeah, in structure and development, it holds up as well as the previous book, but I didn’t like Clugston’s decision to play a borderline-assault for comedy, and I was disappointed with her character development choices for Erin. I would’ve rated about a full target higher if not for the video incident. It happens.

Upcoming reviews for the Modernist Library

I’ve been getting quite a few books (maybe about half of which are graphic novels) backed up on my reading list, and with a few exceptions, I want to get to them before I get any more books –DVDs and records are another story. So (in no particular order), I will be reading and reviewing in the upcoming weeks:

Clugston, Chynna — Blue Monday vol 2: Absolute Beginners
Clugston, Chynna — Blue Monday vol 3: Inbetween Days
Clugston, Chynna — Blue Monday vol 4: Painted Moon
Douglas, Norman — Venus in the Kitchen
Fitzgerald, F Scott — The Great Gatsby (a re-read since, damn, high school, at least)
Fitzgerald, F. Scott – Tender Is the Night
Fitzgerald, F Scott – This Side of Paradise
Fitzgerald – The Beautiful & the Damned
Fitzgerald, F Scott – The Collected Short Stories of
Rich, Jamie S. — The Everlasting
Rich, Jamie S. — Cut My Hair
Rich, Jamie S. — Have You Seen The Horizon Lately?
Rich, Jamie S. — Love the Way You Love vol 1
Rich, Jamie S — Love the way You Love vol 2
Gillen & McKelvie — Phonogram 1: Rue Britannia
Gillen & McKelvie — Phonogram 2: The Singles Club
Spencer, Gane & Stewart –The Vinyl Underground 1: Watching the Detectives
Spencer, Gane & Kelly –The Vinyl Underground 2: Pretty Dead Things
Wilde, Oscar — The Picture of Dorian Grey (Yes, I’ve already read this, but haven’t re-read it for at least seven years)
Wilde, Edginton & Culbard — The Picture of Dorian Grey: A Graphic Novel
Jonsson, Matts — Hey Princess
Brite, P.Z. — Plastic Jesus
MacInnes, Colin — Absolute Beginners (yes, another re-read)
MacInnes, Colin — Mr Love & Justice
MacInnes, Colin — England, Half English
MacInnes & Fieger — London: City of Any Dream
Priestley, J. B. — It’s An Old Country
Unsworth, Cathi — Bad Penny Blues
Reed, Jeremy — Here Come the Nice
Reed, Jeremy — King of Carnaby Street: A Life of John Stephen
Buhle, Paul — The Beats: A Graphic History
Kray, Ron — My Story
The Krays (Reg & Ronald) — Our Story
Hulanicki – From A to Biba: The Autobiography of Barbara Hulanicki
Ross, Geoffrey Aquilana – Day of the Peacock: Style for Men 1963-1973
Banis, Victor J. — The Why Not
Home, Stewart — Tainted Love

And after that, maybe get on to a summer of Camus? Other things I hope to eventually include are my Jarman books (I basically have all of them, if you don’t count his published film scripts), Quentin Crisp, the Nureyev biography I have, some Tom Wolfe, Warhol, …..

Modernist Library: Blue Monday vol. 1 – The Kids Are Alright

img295Title: Blue Monday: The Kids Are Alright (plus short stories)
Script: Chynna Clugston-Major
Illustration: Chynna Clugston-Major
Published: Oni Press, 2003; reprint 2007 (original comic book miniseries, 2000 and short stories originally printed variously in 1997, 1998, and 1999)

As with the later Scooter Girl miniseries by Ms Clugston, which I had previously reviewed, the story of this one is simple and kinda predictable, but the characters are lively enough to make it engrossing.

The title of this series, Blue Monday, is not only a clear nod to the song by New Order, which references the running themes of largely British music from the 1980s, but also play’s on the name of one of the primary characters, Bleu Finnegan. Between the main story pf the first volume and the “short stories” included in the back of the tome, Bleu is presented as a lead with others in a close-knit supporting cast, but other characters are given just as much personality, sometimes arguably more. The first such character to really do this is Clover Connelley, an Irish-speaking punk girl who’s given dialogue thick with mid-prole British Isles informalities, slang, and phonetics, in spite of a setting of what’s clearly an American high school, likely based in a fictionalised Fresno, California, area. Unfortunately, in this volume, very little other information about Clover is given, and most of that is within the short stories that pre-date the main story. Other characters that fill out the main cast are Victor and Alan, the boys, and Erin, all three dressing in a fashion typical of the 1977-85 Mod Revival, in spite of a year set as approximately 1992/93, judging by a fantasy sequence involving members of Oasis and Blur, and the main story of the three chapters: Bleu tries to see Adam Ant in “what’s probably his last” concert.

In all seriousness, that is pretty much the entire story of this first volume of three chapters — the quest of fifteen-years-old Bleu Finnegan to see Adam Ant in concert. Seems a ridiculous topic to drag out into three individual issues of a comic book, just written out like that, but Ms Clugston makes it work. It’s never boring, even if the suspense and drama is more cartoonish than realistic at times, but as a story loosely based on Clugston’s own high school years, it’s more realistic for how these events tend to feel to a teenager.

The short stories are well worth the read, as well, as they establish how many of the characters met and developed, and also gives a well-deserved appreciation of Clugston’s growth as an illustrator-storyteller.

Overall, it’s cute and enjoyable, and the characters really pop to life.