Having delivered intimate and unsettling portraits of his traumatic upbringing and struggles with mental illness in previous books such as Couch Tag and LOVF, it seems only natural that cartoonist Jesse Reklaw would take art as therapy a step further by doing daily diary comics — but as his late-2019 collection of them published by Fantagraphics Underground demonstrates, he’s chosen to go about the task in rather meticulous fashion, and hast taken its title, Keeping Score, absolutely literally.
Which, I mean, more power to him — diary comics are almost always therapeutic for their creators in one way or another, so why not come up with, say, a visual shorthand chart recording things such one’s medications, moods, and alcohol intake, as Reklaw has done here? If you’re gonna go in, you might as well go all in, otherwise why even bother? There’s no doubt about this particular cartoonist’s commitment to his task, then, but does that necessarily mean that you’re going to want to read about his bike rides, creative process, social interactions, and adventures in pet ownership?
As it turns out, the answer to that vital question is ” absolutely,” which means that Reklaw has managed to make the personal interesting, and that’s certainly more than you can say for some. His facility for portraying the potentially mundane in a manner that’s definitely less so is certainly admirable, then, although in fairness it’s probably worth pointing out that you’re going to care a hell of a lot more about the contents of this book if you’re already familiar with its author’s prior ones. As a “stand-alone” work, my best guess is that this would come across as a curious piece — an engaging enough one to make it worth one’s time and money, sure, but perhaps not one you’d find yourself re-visiting too terribly often. If you’re a veteran Reklaw reader, though, then it’s borderline-vital stuff, bravely offering crucial insights into a talented cartoonist’s largely-quiet triumphs and tragedies, as well as one that shines a light on the methodology behind his art and the experiences that inform it.
In that respect, then, a project such as this is essentially pitch-perfect for Gary Groth’s “micropress” imprint, as it’s strong and doubtlessly worthy work that will, almost by definition, be of interest to a small-but-loyal readership. I dig the fact that a label such as “FU” exists to bring material of this nature to to the public — even if it’s only a tiny fraction of that public — but putting these strips in readers’ hands is a secondary concern at best, as they accomplish their true purpose by dint of their creation alone. So, “mission accomplished,” absolutely — with an added bonus for Reklaw in that other people now get to check this stuff out, too.
As far as the cartooning on offer goes, it’s uniformly strong — not as polished and/or “ready for prime time” as, say, Couch Tag, but unquestionably well-rendered and inherently communicative. He doesn’t half-ass anything here even though he easily and understandably could have chosen to do so, and I would humbly submit that, once again, this is solid evidence of Reklaw’s commitment to using his art to not just document his life but, more importantly, improve it. That’s noteworthy and, not to be overly-reductive, pretty damn cool. And it makes for an engaging bit of — well, let’s just call it informed voyeurism and hope that doesn’t come across as being too inherently creepy.
In summation, then : this may not be the ideal place to start reading Jesse Reklaw’s work, but if you’re already “on board,” you should find it fascinating, informative, and hey — maybe even occasionally moving.
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