It’s tricky, when you’re reading something that strikes you as being wholly original yet wears its influences so plainly on its sleeve, to adequately describe the sensation it leaves you with : deja vu for something that never was? Or perhaps, to quote Jello Biafra, “nostalgia for an age that never existed”?
I dunno — and I’m really good at not knowing lately, incidentally — but it’s fair to say that Lane Yates’ self-published comic (and an admirably slick and glossy self-published comic it is) Single Camera Sitcom #1 took me to places both familiar and foreign, but with the added caveat that they seemed familiar precisely because they were foreign and vice-versa. In a pinch, I’d say its most immediate stylistic antecedent is Greg Stump’s Disillusioned Illusions, but in another pinch I might say nah, that honor belongs to — well, to any actual single-camera televised sitcom. Can we meet somewhere in the middle, like Jeep and Bruce Springsteen would like us to do with the white nationalists and QAnon crazies? That’d sure be swell, wouldn’t it?
Look, this computer-generated strip has been running on Instagram and various and sundry (and, it would appear, perhaps rotating — but I could be wrong) other venues since 2018, but I only caught up with it just shortly prior to Yates collecting the first 38 chapters/segments/installments/whatever in physical form, so this debut publication is a de facto “reprint” that just so happens to be seeing actual print for the first time. Kitty and Raymond are our roommate protagonists who don’t much seem to leave their room but, like Stump’s shadows, stuff seems to come to them, or the scene seems to shift around them, or maybe they do “go places” without, uhhmmm, going anywhere, but in a way the particulars are unimportant. Just vital. To an extent, at any rate.
What fascinates me every bit as much the banter and the quips and the cut-out imagery, though, is the placement of people and objects in relation to one another that Yates is engaged in here. Appropriating static images that are beyond one’s control both by definition and from the outset, and then precisely controlling their utilization is probably — okay, definitely — an art form unto itself, and I’ve seldom seen it exercised as deftly in terms of overall care and skill as it is in these pages. Subplots and narrative threads intersect and converge and break off in ways that are entirely unexpected while feeling intrinsically “right” because Yates’ de facto collages maintain a singular inner logic that can seemingly unfurl in any direction for any reason — or for no reason. What matters more than utility here is efficacy, proving once and for all that the two needn’t necessarily go hand in hand.
I’m getting depressingly pretentious here, and what’s even more depressing is that I know it, but don’t blame that on this comic because, to reiterate, it is pretty goddamn funny — especially if absurdism is your bag, because that’s baked right into the cake. And while I can no longer eat cake — or at least cake that’s any fucking good — I can, and I do, enjoy reading this comic. A lot. And I’m fairly certain that you will too, although perhaps for reasons entirely different from mine. Its methodology may be limited, but its possibilities strike me as being limitless, and part of the joy of examining auteur projects such as this one lies in teasing out the the inherent tension between form and function and seeing how each metaphorically carries water for the other.
A final touch worth noting are the “production notes” underneath each panel, which would seem to be a novel and entirely apropos metafictional device, but in point of fact end up serving the role of Cassandra, as well — see how often, for instance, you’re ready to mentally “laugh” or “clap” in your mind before the “audience” (that would be you and me) is instructed to do so. Life imitating art — but doing it first? One more innovation from the mind (if not the pen or brush) of Yates — in a work composed entirely of found, conscripted, or otherwise creatively-appropriated parts.
Single Camera Sitcom #1 is available for $11 from Lane Yates’ Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/listing/922995680/single-camera-sitcom?ref=shop_home_active_1&crt=1
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