T. Edward Bak, writer/artist
Bodega Distribution, 2007
$9.95 (don’t worry, they’re big pages)
In my experience most autobiographical comics come from a place of, if not quite acceptance, than at least understanding. To be really pat about it, they seem to be an artist’s way of making sense of their own lives. Not so with T. Edward Bak’s Service Industry, which feels less like a reflection upon events and more like a wounded, panicked wail about them. The book’s structure–alternating with little warning between present-day ruminations, autobio flashbacks, and dreamlike flights of fancy shot through with atheistic metaphysics and brutal self-deprecation–suggests nothing so much as a man coming apart at the seams. The Bak presented here has been driven to the brink by being a thinking man who’s realized he can’t think himself out of the problems that demand his mental and emotional attention. He’s aware of the pointlessness of his menial job as a dishwasher in the increasingly stratified American class system, which in its way he blames for a tormented family history that includes his mother’s abandonment of his infant sister, his military father’s abandonment of the whole family (to become a minister), and his own abandonment of his ethnic heritage–but he feels incapable of doing anything about any of it. Certainly he rejects the potential of his comics to make a bit of difference, and in that light his draftsmanship and line–neither as sophisticated as his concepts or layouts, but both adequate–actually reinforce his point through their lack of showiness. (It’s easier to bellyfeel that Bak feels like it’s all a waste of time than it would be if he could draw like Chris Ware.) It’s this conflict between awareness and agency that fuels Service Industry‘s ever-increasing sense of desperation, and possibly even breakdown. In that way it’s a frightening comic. You know how you reach a certain age and notice you’re not getting any happier, and instead of being romantic in a teenage-wasteland kind of way, the idea that you’ll be battling sadness for the rest of your life now fills you with abject horror?