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.

Modermist Library: Scooter Girl by Chynna Clugston

Title: Scooter Girl
Written & Illustrated by: Chynna Clugston-Major
Publisher: Oni Press
Published: 2004
ISBN-10: 1929998880

I know I’ve ragged on other stories for being formulaic, and while this one kind of is, Ms Clugston also makes clear diversions from the formula to keep it interesting in this story, which certainly makes up for the fact that you can see the ending coming just from reading the back of the book. The basic story follows this familiar formula:

  • Meet Boy, he’s a charismatic womaniser who gets away with it cos he’s something of a latter-day Alfie.
  • Meet Girl, she’s somehow the only one in all of San Francisco who’s wise to his hijinks and starts to point it out to others.
  • Boy is obviously crushing on Girl in some meaningful way, but is prematurely too set-in-his-ways to see it, and acts like a jerk.
  • Boy blames Girl for his sudden onset of personal problems, even though she’s barely said two words to him.
  • Girl and Boy can’t avoid each-other and somehow end up together in spite of long-held animosity toward each other.

I’m sure this has been explained on TV Tropes, but if I tried to look it up without knowing what they call it there, I’d never get this post finished. Now tropes are not bad things, or at least not universally; basically, they’re potentially entertaining little formulas for writing stories, including for television, film, or songs, that skilled writers use to make quality entertainment. Chynna Clugston is one of those skilled writers.

The story is focused on, and narrated by, Ashton Archer, who builds himself up in the first few pages as some paragon of male perfection, even though he’s only eighteen, and his ideas about dating, sex, and relationships seem plucked from the original version of Alfie. I really hated the title character in that film, by the way. As his life spirals out of control over this girl, Margaret Sheldon, I can’t help but get really into it, because I really hate those smarmy bastards. A lot of the humour also revolves around Ash getting his come-uppance and doing some much-needed introspection and self-analysis, and from the fact that many characters point out to him, on occasion repeatedly, that he’s not as gifted as he fancies himself.

I mean, to be frank, this really isn’t that different a story from Long Hot Summer, but the engaging style of Ms Clugston’s writing makes it, in my opinion, a far more enjoyable read, and one worth reading repeatedly. Her illustration style is also considerably more expressive and involved, whereas Long Hot Summer kind of looks as flat and reduced-emotion as the first couple seasons of Mad Men. While I started the story only caring very slightly more about Ash than about, say, Alfie, overall, I ended up understanding him and especially his character growth a little better, and in the end, I’m convinced that he’s a better person now. While Margaret isn’t given as much development by Clugston as the title might suggest, she’s also clearly more than a cypher existing for no other reason than as some personified McGuffin; unlike Long Hot Summer‘s Ashley, she clearly has a personality that’s developed enough to make sense out of her and the things she does and says, even if we’re mainly seeing this from Ashton’s point-of-view, and it’s very easy to like her. Even her twin brother, initially introduced for apparently little more reason than aiding Margaret’s own character development, is himself a fleshed-out character given a real and distinct personality.

Also keep in mind that the story diverts a bit from “the real world”, and it can make California’s Mod scene in approximately 2004 seem as big as London 1963 —which is a laugh and a half, in all honesty, but it’s nice that the story doesn’t have to deal with addressing the fact that it’s actually a pretty small subculture, Stateside, which kind of gives it a potential for wider appeal than California. Ashton’s self-introduction as some scholastic prodigy and a gridiron star for his school’s team, and suave enough to get into the knickers of every girl in his high school is just kind of ridiculous and makes it easy to really hate this character at first —if only cos, as per my experience and that of most of my friends in the scene, we didn’t become vinyl-hoarders obsessed with clothes well-removed from mainstream culture because we were athletic and possessing of amazing sexual prowess, and being vinyl-hoarders obsessed with clothes certainly didn’t help us toward becoming athletic and gaining sexual prowess. That said, I tend to forgive the clear fantasy elements noted simply because it kind of makes it clear that Ash is a bit of a narcissist, so naturally, he’s going to build himself up as being the best at everything, whether he might actually be so or not, and if I wanted to fan-wank it, as the kids say, I could say his idea that the Mod scene in California is bigger than it ever was is simply another symptom of his self-obsessions that borderline narcissistic delusions; to Ash, nothing else exists but his scene, so naturally any story told from his perspective is going to seem like the entire world is that way.

Clugston, clearly, is an awesomely talented story-teller, and her characters truly seem to pop to life in the pages, no matter how minor. My advice is to put this on your permanent summer reading list, and you’ll not regret it. I also really like her idea of putting in a “soundtrack” for the story, with songs and their bylines sporadically listed throughout the pages; I didn’t do that exact thing with New Dance, but before I’d even read Scooter Girl, I’d had a similar idea to give out a sort of self-selected “soundtrack” on CD-Rs at events where I bring copies of the novel, and will probably continue this. So naturally, I can appreciate people with similar ideas.