Writer/Artist - Mats Johnsson. Publisher - Top Shelf Comix $14.95 USD
I like a fat little book with a couple making out on fallen leaves. That’s a good start right there. It’s not like I can read SuperF*ckers in a waiting room or Starbucks.
I think for many writers and artists, there’s a relation between sex and productivity. For some, the lack of sex, and the frustration over that fact, can often fuel long stretches of intense, sustained creative effort. For others, a satisfying love life can obviate the need to express oneself creatively.
I think there’s a sort of middle period, too, where one is finding sexual success with a different partner or two, and a combination of love and ego and adrenaline fuels creative efforts that often dwell on one’s exploits. I remember being in an odd sort of love rectangle with my best friend at the time and two other women (years ago) and it was all so exciting and heartbreaking and stressful I started writing a novel about it before the events had even come to any sort of conclusion. At the time, events like drinking rum and Coke in a Big Gulp cup outside a 7-11, or the girl squatting and peeing in front of me in the parking lot outside a Morrissey concert, took on dramatic significance that seemed to need chronicling, even if those events seem rather mundane and tacky now.
I get a lot of that feeling from Hey Princess. It’s not that Johnsson was creating the cartoons as they were happening—it’s clear there was a distance of a few years—but it’s still soon enough that the cartoons feel like he’s not far removed from the events and perhaps not quite able to put them into perspective, or to frame them for maximum dramatic impact. There’s a good deal of similarity to Jeffery Brown’s work, in that most of the stories involve Johsson pining for a girl. However, unlike Brown, Jonsson seems more willing to poke fun at himself and his trendiness, even if there is probably an element of pride that he was so stylish, and certainly his style helped him land some of these women.
The book is touted as a graphic novel, but like Brown’s work, it’s more of a collection of stories comprising a sequential chunk of the creator’s life. The period here is Jonsson getting out of college, starting work at a pop music magazine, and finding time to see a lot of European music festivals (probably in part for his job, though it’s not clear) and bouncing between a few women who excite and frustrate him in differnet ways. There’s a nice, untidy feeling of reality here—if this was a movie, say, you’d want to compress the women into one woman, but occasionally in a man’s life there are times of plenty that encourages ficklessness and vacillating. To his credit, Jonsson doesn’t romanticize himself or the women, and the sex act, while depicted frequently, always looks pretty awkward. On the other hand, I’m not sure he has the artistic skill to make it look otherwise. In a book about nervousness and people chatting, drinking, and fucking, Jonsson’s amateurish style works just fine. If needed to convey beauty or pain, or when anything beyond a matter-of-fact narrative is required, he would come up short. It’s not a great book, but anyone on either side of the Atlantic who’s been young, drunk, horny and swooning can find some familiar moments with which they can relate.