Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday Minis: A Year in the Life of a Punk

So folks don't like punk rock. The songs are simple and stripped-down, focused around three key chords. Often, the musicians aren't terribly skilled. The lyrics lack irony or any deep hidden meanings.

Of course, where some people see sloppiness, others see unpolished gems. There's a lot to be said for the upfront, what-you-see-is-what-you-get quality of punk, its lack of pretension, its accessibility.

Snakepit is a punk rock diary comic, which is appropriate since creator Ben Snakepit is a punk. Granted, he's a 35-year-old punk with a steady job. Snakepit has been keeping a diary comic for 10 years now, recording each day in three black-and-white panels. Birdcage Bottom Books recently sent me the most recent (and apparently final) installment, Snakepit 2009, which is my first encounter with this skull-wearing Austinist.

Perhaps in its younger days, Snakepit was filled with rollicking adventures, but the 2009 installment illustrates a comfortable domesticity, albeit one filled with rock shows and heaps of marijuana. Ben goes to work, hangs out with his girlfriend, worries about money, practices with his band, has dinner with friends, gets tattoos, watches movies, and smokes his fair share of weed. But there's something appealing about watching the mundaneness of someone else's life. It's like peering in your neighbors' windows -- you know you're not going to see anything exciting, but you're curious about those little details that make their lives different from yours.

Some of the diary comics I read regularly, such as Ellerbisms and Today Nothing Happened, have a faint narrative thread running through them. Snakepit is stylistically closer to James Kochalka's American Elf, capturing the ordinary rhythms of daily life. I had an odd moment reading through Snakepit where I was reminded of reading those big collections of Garfield comics. There are symbols and places that repeat throughout the year. A wall of videos behind Ben means he's at work. When he plays video games, he usually renders himself as a smelly turd in front of a laptop. When he eats a meal with Karen, we see little hearts everywhere. It's a style you have to either accept or reject, but if you let yourself get caught up in its rhythm, Snakepit will quickly carry you through the entire year of strips, and you'll get some good chuckles when Ben throws a few deliberately discordant notes in with his usual refrains. Let's just say I was caught off-guard by an errant penis.

Reading Snakepit 2009 does give you the sense that you've sort of, kind of witnessed a year in the life of another human being. But I'm looking forward to the eventual Snakepit treasury collection, which will collect all 10 years of Snakepit strips, and let us really see how Ben Snakepit, cartoonist, punk rocker, and video clerk extraordinaire, has changed over the years.

Snakepit 2009 [Birdcage Bottom Books]

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