Soul Death On The Installment Plan : Sam Grinberg’s “On A Hot Summer Night I Like To Eat My Favorite Cartoon Characters”

I’ve always been of a mind that the minute you find yourself inhabiting a suburban street — or, even worse, a cul-de-sac — the clock is ticking against you. A kind of apathy-by-osmosis begins to infect your being, slowly rotting you to the core, to the point where “ideas” such as “you don’t have anything to fear from the police if you haven’t done anything wrong” and “higher taxes on the rich are harmful to the economy” start to sound reasonable. I’m not sure if it’s something in the air, something in the (usually well) water, or something in the Muzak that gets pumped through the speakers in the park pavilions, but the suburbs fucking kill you — and they take their sweet time doing it.

Nobody gets this better than suburban youth, who by and large can’t wait to turn 18 and get the fuck out of Dodge, and nobody gets the fact that the youth get it better than Sam Grinberg, which might go some way toward explaining why he’s got a “day job” working on The Simpsons. In the two issues of his self-published comic Scumburbia, he’s cut to the core of the existential ennui that permeates every aspect of suburban “life” and “culture” with a kind of easy precision that can probable only come from someone who grew up immersed in that milieu, and his other recent (as in late 2019 if I’m not mistaken?) stand-alone mini, On A Hot Summer Night I Like To Eat My Favorite Cartoon Characters, offers one representation in microcosm after another of what makes his viewpoint both so unique and so obvious.

Mind you, I don’t invoke the term “obvious” in any sort of derogatory sense here, I only do so to point out that, well — pointing out the obvious is what Grinberg does best. And there’s a real skill involved in doing that emotively and effectively. It take a combination of talents, not the least of which is an ear for authentic dialogue, an intimate knowledge of the kind of lives you’re writing and drawing, an evocative but inherently un-fussy style of cartooning that makes every character look unique in the midst of utterly bland surroundings, and hey — if you’re got a decent sense of both humor and comic timing, that helps, too.

All of which means that the short-form strips and single-panel gags collected in this ‘zine somehow manage to drive home the doom and gloom of life in the ‘burbs without being too terribly “gloomy” or “doomy” in and of themselves. “How’s that work, then?” is a natural enough question following on from that, and I’m not entirely certain I can point to a succinct answer, but work it does in much the same way that, say, early Richard Linklater films do. Grinberg knows that it’s not easy being a punk outsider in the land of strip malls and office “parks,” but for any kid hoping to hold on to a shred of individuality and sanity, what other choice is there? Besides, it’s a lot more fun than, ya know, fitting in.

In a way, then, this comic — which, for the record, features a number of characters from Scumburbia, but knowledge of that series in no way a prerequisite to having a good time here — functions as both a grim appraisal of dead-end realities and a love letter to the kids who will do something, anything, to relieve the boredom. Even — maybe especially — if their acts of quasi-rebellion make no real sense and won’t change much of anything in the end. It’s the thought that counts, after all, even among those for whom thinking is not necessarily their strong suit.

Youthful disillusionment is part of life regardless of where you come from, of course — not too many rural kids tend to stick around after high school, for instance, and even kids from the big city dream of going somewhere bigger — but the suburbs seem tailor-made to produce nothng but. If you came up under similar circumstances, who knows? The cartooning in this little book is strong enough that it may even make you feel somewhat nostalgic for those days. If you were lucky enough to avoid the ‘bubs, it’ll make you feel grateful. And if you’re a kid slouching your way through the kind of existence it depicts right now? It offers proof that things get better if you make art from your life.

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On A Hot Summer Night I Like To Eat My Favorite Cartoon Characters is available for $10.00 from Sam Grinberg’s Storenvy site at https://samgrinberg.storenvy.com/products/28981372-on-a-hot-summer-night-i-like-to-eat-my-favorite-cartoon-characters-32-page-z

Review wrist check – Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 68 Saturation” in burnt orange.