Every day throughout the month of December, Attentiondeficitdisorderly will spotlight one of the best comics of 2010. Today’s comic is…
The brightness of Brecht Evens’s watercolor reds may well have been the only thing that helped The Wrong Place pass my traditional “if it doesn’t appeal to you at first glance, you’ve got other books to read” test. See, I’d assumed it was just one of those froofy Euro-art comics of the sort Nick Gazin describes here as “new-age bologna.” It’s just not a visual or tonal aesthetic that speaks to me. It’s also not The Wrong Place at all.
No, here’s something that is in actual fact closer to that elusive, perhaps mythical “Okay, so I like Scott Pilgrim — what else is there?” comic than to anything else: A fun, funny, sexy, insightful comic about the lives of urban twentysomethings that doesn’t pull punches about their shortcomings but also doesn’t beat you bloody with them either, told with a unique visual vocabulary that pops off the page and makes you jealous of the creator who came up with it. The two books couldn’t possibly look more different, of course — just for example, everyone remembers Bryan Lee O’Malley’s invitingly slick manga/videogame/cartoon black-and-white line, while Evens’s lush and liquid watercolors have no real lines to speak of. But O’Malley’s pop-culture grab-bag shorthand and Evens’s symphonic color-coding both serve the same purpose: Giving the reader ready-made and memorable character designs, the better to reveal character through those designs’ interactions with the environment and with one another. In Evens’s case this mostly means tracking two polar-opposite friends, legend-in-his-own-time bon vivant Robbie (he’s blue!) and dependable, well-liked but never really well-loved Gary (he’s gray!), as well as the (presumably) latest girl to spend one crazy night with Robbie, Olivia (she’s red!).
What I like best about how things play out is that Evens resists the temptation (one I thought would be irresistible) to lecture us about the shortcomings of each character’s monochromatic approach to life. Sure, Robbie’s “on” enough to make him a nice place to visit but not live, but at no point is there any indication that his life-of-the-party lifestyle is anything but fulfilling and sincerely lived; moreover he appears to genuinely care about the well-being of everyone he comes in contact with — old friends, new lovers, random people at the club, everyone. Gary’s comparative dreariness engenders empathy, not pity or disgust; I think his motives for staying in the shadow of his friend and not taking the kinds of chances Robbie takes are clear and sympathetically portrayed — that lifestyle really isn’t for everyone! — and moreover he’s a genuine and caring guy too. Olivia decides to take a chance, and as a reward has an awesome night and reality-warping sex with a super-hot and funny and interesting dude; there’s a tinge of regret in a thoughtfully colored scene after the fact, but as best I can tell it goes unheard by Robbie and presumably the two of them, being grown-ups, wake up the next morning and go on with their lives, their experience together having enriched it just that much.
I’m glad no one has an arc to speak of. Why should they? It’s just a cartoonist painting the living shit out of parties and club nights and sex scenes and subway rides, the stuff people’s lives are made of, and sometimes those lives don’t have arcs.