“Things Go Wrong” #1 Gets Plenty Right

This was a tough one — and I mean that in the best, most complimentary sense possible. But first the basics :

Toronto-based cartoonist Jason Bradshaw has garnered something of a small but dedicated following for his self-published ‘zine Bore, but it’s been damn tough to get ahold of copies of it on this side of the border — so in order to ameliorate this dearth of all things Bradshaw in the US, Robyn Chapman of The Tiny Report renown has taken it upon herself to publish a trilogy of his previously-issued minis under the new title of Things Go Wrong, the first issue of which was recently released under the auspices of her Paper Rocket Minicomics imprint. That’s the background. That’s easy. Now for the hard part.

And yeah, Things Go Wrong isn’t just a hard comic to get through, it’s a very hard comic to get through — as it damn well should be. It’s about chronic depression, after all, and despite Bradshaw’s loose, somewhat-traditionally-“cartoony” illustration style, a deep and impenetrable pall of doom hangs over every page of this book.

Some of that is down to the “cool blue” color tone, reminiscent of the one used by Daniel Clowes for most of Ghost World, which bathes the proceedings in a hue traditionally associated with emotional difficulty (“feeling the blues,” and what have you), but most of it is due to the harrowing POV Bradshaw’s narrative employs, which communicates the story in a manner that feels decidedly first-person despite the fact that omniscient, third-person narration is present throughout. I’m not sure if Bradshaw utilizes this “distancing” step in order to make it (hopefully) clear that his protagonist, a creatively-stunted painter named James who falls ill (and violently so) courtesy of a mysterious gastro-intestinal parasite and subsequently either finds his sickness to amplify his already-present sense of lethargy or, if you take a darker view of things, decides to literally use it as an excuse to “go all the way” in terms of giving up on life, but in any case it sure as hell seems like he understands this mindset deeply, personally, and is pouring it all out on the page either as a method of working his way through it in the present, or as a means of burying a painful chapter of his past once and for all.

Artists have related their mental health struggles for both of these reasons as well as others in the past, of course, and something tells me that subsequent installments in this series will make Bradshaw’s intentions and motivations more clear, but for the time being all I know is that this is as deep into the metaphorical quicksand of depression than just about any other cartoonist has been willing to go this side of Gabby Schulz’ Sick — and, like that justly-celebrated work, this one also utilizes physical illness as a pretext to explore its other, equally (at least) devastating, non-physical counterpart.

Unlike it, however, Bradshaw doesn’t use mental and physical anguish as a springboard to launch a thorough-going and entirely sensible broadside against the American health care system (he doesn’t need to, being Canadian), and instead he keeps the focus tight. Intimate. Maybe even claustrophobic. And it works — by God, it really works. The creative “dry spell” feeds the depression feeds the stomach and intestinal ailments feeds the creative “dry spell” feeds the — ah, shit, you get, the whole thing is a self-destructive “feedback loop” with precisely zero hope of relief. Of respite. Of anything.

Which is all well and good (okay, “good” probably isn’t the best choice of words there — or even a “good” one), but it also means that this comic, entirely understandably, is simply going to be too intense for many readers. James’ dual-track deterioration is reflected in his surroundings, his attitudes, his outlook. As a chronicle of a guy who’s given up, this is all too real. All too authentic. All too brave, as well, absolutely — but it may also be, in the view of some, all too much to take, and I certainly have sympathy for anyone who might feel that way.

That being said, I’m absolutely in awe of what’s been accomplished here, and not only do I feel that reading Things Go Wrong #1 was an enlightening-bordering-on-essential experience, I fully intend to stick it out and read the next two chapters when they come out. I surely feel that prospective readers should be fully aware of what they’re in for here — and I’m confident I’ve done my part in terms of facilitating that “forewarned-is-forearmed” understanding — but if this sounds like the kind of thing that you’d glean some valuable insight from, trust me when I say you undoubtedly will, and that you should immediately order this up from Robyn Chapman for the entirely reasonable price of $4 at http://thetinyreport.storenvy.com/products/25106160-things-go-wrong-1


4 thoughts on ““Things Go Wrong” #1 Gets Plenty Right

      1. Ant

        …you had me at the comparison to (the incredible) Sick!
        Also, fckn loving the art. Gonna hafta try and pick this up (I’m in the UK, soooooo….)!


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