Dare I say there’s something refreshing about reading a ‘zine full of pre-pandemic diary comics, heartless as that no doubt may sound?
Certainly, at this point it’s safe to state that we’ve all been affected by COVID-19 to one degree or another, and many a reader of this review will likely have lost a friend or relative to the disease, so perhaps it’s inherently self-indulgent to yearn for a simpler time, and yet — even the simpler times were often not that simple, and if there’s one thing that Thomas Lampion’s 2019 self-published diary comics mini This Wasn’t What I Had In Mind reminds us of, it’s that the “good old days” had their problems and challenges, as well.
One of them, however, was most assuredly not a world under medically-necessitated lockdown, and as a result the various personal challenges he’s struggling with in and around April of 2019, which is when the comics in this ‘zine were written and drawn, somehow seem — I dunno — surmountable in a way that they likely didn’t at the time. Not that he could have foreseen that while he was making this stuff or anything, mind you.
Still,. many cliches are based on at least a kernel of truth, and “timing is everything” is one of them. Which is not me saying that this collection would have been any less impactful and/or resonant had I read it at the time of its publication, no siree, but what I most assuredly am saying is that it registers differently now — and perhaps even more differently than it would have otherwise simply because readers (myself included) of Lampion’s superb 2020 graphic memoir The Burning Hotels know what a 180 life served up to him following events depicted in this modest little publication. That being said —
This is a work that certainly stands proudly on its own two feet as a document of an earlier, no-less-transitory phase in Lampion’s life — a period marked by the culture shock of a return to his then-home of Philadelphia after spending an extended period abroad in Russia and the breakup of a long-distance relationship with his boyfriend in San Francisco, so there’s definitely an over-arching feeling of rudderlessness and unease and perhaps even confusion to these diary entries, one that is ever-present on a daily basis but that really hits home when they’re all read in succession. Lampion excels, however, at communicating uncertainty, and actually seems more comfortable relating tales of life’s various and sundry crossroads than he does its straight lines, so what we’re getting here isn’t so much a dry recitation of events as they happen as it is an emotional record of how they made him feel — which may seem like a small distinction, admittedly, but trust me when I say it makes all the difference in the world.
Faithful readers of this site will already be familiar with my affection for Lampion’s cartooning, but what took me aback upon seeing this is how little difference there is between stuff he produces quickly and material he’s clearly spent a lot of time on, at least on a purely stylistic level. Yes, these drawings were obviously scrawled out with a minimum of advance planning, but Lampion’s skillful use of cross-hatching, his expressive faces and body language, and his mastery of digital texturing effects are all present and accounted for in these pages — and the daily production schedule affords the strips a level of immediacy that more than compensates for their entirely-understandable lack of “polish.” I’m not trying to tell you that this comic looks “as good ” as, say, The Burning Hotels, but hey — if you liked the art in that book, you’ll find very little by way of “letdown” here.
Also, last but certainly not least, this comic is funny. That may sounds strange given that a lot of the material is quite “heavy” by nature, but Lampion excels at finding a kind of humane and gentle humor in all things, that little nugget of relatability that can make any reader nod their head in agreement and crack a knowing smile. It’s one more added “plus” that elevates his diary comics work above that of most of his contemporaries — and that raises this ‘zine from “sure, may as well check it out” to “must-buy” status.
Sure, it goes without saying that there really is no such thing as the “good old days” — but any day you get a chance to read a Thomas Lampion comic is a very good one indeed.
This Wasn’t What I Had In Mind is available for $5.00 from J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books distro at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/comic-books/products/this-wasnt-what-i-had-in-mind-diary-comics-by-thomas-lampion
Review wrist check – Praesidus “Tom Rice’s Lost Watch Of D-Day” black dial model riding its factory-issue brown canvas strap. “Homage”-style watches are all the rage these days, and I’ve got a few of them myself, but this is the only straight-up replica timepiece in my collection and has quickly become a new favorite everyday “beater” thanks to its simple, clean look and its amazing-for-its-price-point reliability.