Circle Of Life : Mike Freiheit’s “Go F❤ck Myself : The F❤ckpendium”

While one could argue that the prospect of seeing a cartoonist “work through their shit” on the page is something that should have played itself out a long time ago, I’m not too self-consciously cool to admit that such exercises still hold some appeal to me, especially when they’re approached in a unique or novel manner. Mike Freiheit’s latest, Go F❤ck Myself : The F❤ckpendium (Kilgore Books, 2021), however, is something that’s well beyond merely “unique” or “novel” — it’s downright ambitious, in that it offers a reasonably detailed analysis of problems and challenges, both personal and societal, that hold us back by dint of their repetition throughout history. Oh, and just for good measure, he posits (not without justification) they’ll continue to haunt us well into the future, too.

I should, I suppose, be clear here — by “us,” I’m primarily referring to Freiheit himself, since he’s his own subject here, but much of the self-doubt, self-loathing, guilt, anxiety, and fear that serve as constant stumbling blocks for him are felt, to one degree or another, by all (or at least almost all) human beings, so for a book ostensibly rooted in autobio, it’s fair to say this one has a borderline-universal appeal. Provided, of course, that comics of this nature even “appeal” to you in the first place.

I’ve gotta say, though, that there’s literally no reason why this one shouldn’t — Freheit’s artistic sensibilities are pretty damn populist on the whole, and while he spends an awful lot of time putting his flaws under the microscope, he doesn’t appear to actively despise himself, a la an R. Crumb or an Ivan Brunetti, so much as he seeks to understand why breaking old and established patterns is such excruciating fucking work. Simply put, he knows he’s far from perfect, but he’d at least like to try to get better — if he can. And, really, that strikes me as the healthiest way to begin the process of overcoming a decidedly unhealthy batch of neuroses.

To that end, this particular piece of long-form cartooning therapy bobs and weaves through three separate timelines populated by three distinctly different, yet also undeniably similar, versions of Freiheit himself : in the present, he’s a befuddled and anxious jobbing artist trying to navigate married life and the workings of his own mind; in the past, he’s a befuddled and anxious caveman trying to navigate married life and the base struggle for survival; and in the future —well, he’s probably a bit stereotypically “more together” on the surface, but as you’ve no doubt already worked out, many of the same dilemmas his other selves grapple with are still present and accounted for, plus some additional ones.

Such a flexible approach to self-centeredness affords Freiheit ample opportunity to expound upon topics ranging from economics to politics to religion to pop philosophy (plus others), but this is no simple series of monologues or dully-presented observations — rather, it’s a dynamic and engrossing look into one person’s point of view of just about everything under the sun, even if that “one” person is actually three people. And while I admit to being partial to the textured, shaded artwork Freiheit has employed on more generally “somber” or even “dark” projects such as his horror graphic novel The Woods or the strip “Walk A Mile In My Shoes : A Jonestown History” that he did in collaboration with some out-of-his-depth comics critic or other for the American Cult anthology, there’s no question that the more clean, crisp line he employs here (with, it should be pointed out, increasing confidence as the book goes along — likely owing to the fact that parts one and two were originally self-published as minis and part three is all new, therefore this project can truly be said to have been several years in the making) is pitch-perfect for the expository-bordering-on-confessional tone of this material. It’s necessary for him to draw readers into this comic in a way that’s cordial to them so that he can be far tougher on himself without alienating anybody in the process, and he pulls off that conceptual tight-rope act with considerable aplomb here — not only visually, but narratively, as well.
Still, one could certainly be forgiven for operating under the assumption that this thing must be scattered and haphazard almost by definition, so perhaps the fact that it’s actually a remarkably cohesive piece of work on the whole stands as its most notable accomplishment. There are no easy answers to any of the questions Freiehit poses — if, indeed, there are any answers at all — but by taking us along for the ride rather than throwing us in at the deep end and seeing if we sink or swim, by laying out his “warts and all” truth without being overly precious about it, and by reminding us frequently along the way that there’s a funny side to just about everything, he’s created something both special and very nearly singular : a conversation with himself (or maybe that should be himselves) that speaks to us all.

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Go F❤ck Myself : The F❤ckpendium is available for $20.00 from the Kilgore Books website at http://www.kilgorebooks.com/shop/go-fck-myself-the-fckpendium-mike-freiheit

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

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