One guy who appears to have been doing a lot of it lately is writer/occasional artist Chad Bilyeu, an African American ex-pat currently living in The Netherlands whose self-published autobio series Chad In Amsterdam has actually been running since 2018, but seems to be garnering a lot of recognition from quarters both expected and less so since the recent publication of its fifth issue. I admit to being late to this particular party myself, but Bilyeu recently rectified that situation for me by sending me all five issues to date, and I gotta say : we throw around Harvey Pekar comparisons a lot when referencing certain creators like Jonathan Baylis in the here and now and Dennis Eichhorn in years gone by, but Bilyeu might come the closest of anyone to really channeling the “Pekar ethos” given that his comics not only deal with the day to day realities of his own life, but also tackle subjects pertaining to local social, political, cultural, and even economic history. Here’s the perhaps-surprising thing, though : despite hewing closing to Pekar than anyone else in the “autobio game,” these comics are nevertheless utterly unique.
Which isn’t to say that he’s not frequently reminded that he’s, if you’ll forgive the cliche, a fish out of water, and that he doesn’t have plenty still to learn. A visit to Amsterdam’s infamous “Red Light District” turns out to be nothing like he expected for reasons no reader will expect themselves, the ins, outs, and frankly “what the fucks” of bicycle transportation in the city remain a constant source of head-scratching, and while students doing double duty as cafe baristas will surely surprise no one, having them do triple duty as immigration officers almost certainly will. And here you though mayonnaise on french fries sounded out of the ordinary.
Which isn’t to diminish the contributions of his artistic collaborators in any way — it’s Bilyeu’s life, sure, but their interpretations of it give each story a unique flavor that more often than not is a pitch-perfect tonal and stylistic match for the material that they’re drawing. And while many of the artists who have appeared in these pages are familiar (and decidedly welcome) faces, such as Bernie Mireault, personal favorite Rachelle Meyer, and even frequent Pekar cohort Gary Dumm, the talents of Eryc Why, Drol, Juliette de Wit, Merel Barends, and Denis Galocha, to name just a handful, are more than likely going to be ones that are being enjoyed and experienced by most readers (at least most North American) readers for the first time — which rather keeps the “old and new” theme that we began with going, I guess, and makes this as good a point as any to wrap this up. Suffice to say, you pass on this series at your peril, even — maybe especially — if you think you’ve already seen all that the autobio genre has to offer.
Chad In Amsterdam #s 1-5 are available at Chad Bilyeu’s website, but for the ease of my predominantly-North American readership, I’m going to direct you to J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books distro, where they’re all in stock and sell for $7.00 each : https://birdcagebottombooks.com/