Youth In Decline
Let’s get one thing straight: this is a beautiful little book. That pink cover is enough hot pink to be arresting, but enough shades dark of true hot pink to be just plain nice. The cover illustrations are perfect: joyful, weird, intriguing. And the interior, yes, two-tone, navy and a dusty blue-green (turrrquise?), a simple panel structure, and great character designs. This is a nice book to look at. I mean, look. (However, page numbers might have been nice, Youth In Decline, so that we Snackies readers could share our favourite gags more efficiently.)
This pretty pink volume collects Nick Sumida’s webcomic of the same name. I didn’t read the comics as they were coming out, but pleasantly, they work as well in collected form as I imagine they did in serial. These are good comic strips, funny strips, and while they don’t build into a grand narrative or character arc, they are additive, the Snackies world getting a bit deeper, and weirder, and more wonderful with each page turn. That’s good comedy, though: a long and winding joke that wraps up with some absurdity and a callback to what’s come before? Bringing the fucking house down, Sumida.
Another thing I should make clear, right now, before we go much further: I came so damn close to wetting myself while reading this fucking comic. So close. Somewhere between “*cut to a shot of me ribbon dancing in hell*” and “which glasses are cuter” is when it hit. Oh lord. You don’t know what I’m talking about yet — and I feel sorry for you, to be honest — but you will soon. Because, listen, Snackies is a very funny comic that you should definitely read. Though if you’re looking for a dry assessment of the book’s technical virtues, go elsewhere; there are other reviews.
So, Snackies. It was originally published as webcomic strips: it’s a series of gags about “Nick Sumida,” his ego, and his insecurities. I’ve been having trouble describing this comic to friends. I’ve tried “screwball absurdity balanced on the knife edge of despair” (gross, Megan, so purple) and “ironic hipster self-deprecation but kind of metal” and even “ironic hipster self-deprecation but actually funny.” But let’s take a look at a couple of pages so we can get a taste:
You don’t need me to explain why the joke works, but I will say this: it’s all about the beat. All of Snackies works on a principle of weird, weirder, weirdest. Start weird, start mean, and then escalate.
Sumida’s favourite target is himself. “Nick” swings from crushing insecurity to delusional to egomaniacal and back to insecure–in truth, it’s all of a piece. Nick is an artist (you know what they’re like), and a millenial (ugh, you KNOW what they’re like), and a perennially single, creepy-ass romantic (UGH). And that’s Snackies. It’s an extended gag about “this modern life” and terrible gags about “this modern life.” Part of the humour comes from how not-unique the setup is, and how uniquely weird the denouement is (*cut to a shot of me ribbon dancing in hell*). Another even tastier part comes from how irredeemably terrible Nick is. Take for example, Nick’s misadventures in dating. He variously dates: a reflection of himself, in an extended Narcissus gag where his beloved reflection is found in a window and a spoon, rather than a pond; a nice boy he pushes away with a costumed war plan to confuse and distract others from discovering Nick’s true self; and his own anxieties.
A continuing theme is Nick sabotaging himself through crushing anxiety and self doubt, or through his self-interest, which is always always always taken to absurd extremes. His self-doubt and extreme self-confidence are two sides of the same manic coin, set against a backdrop of texts from God, apocalyptic vulture attacks, sonic screams, Furbie-people, and twenty-something angst. The closing line is–hang on, is it possible to spoil this kind of thing? Avert your eyes if you’re concerned–this: “I’m a fraud. It’s only a matter of time before everyone sees it. My whole life is a lie, I have no talent or self-worth.” Now watch me date a guy I met during a monster-cult sacrifice incident!
I started this review with the packaging and the look of the comic, so let’s go back to that; in this case, they don’t lie. Sumida’s cartooning is cute and the colour palette of the interior and exterior is on point: ~dark bubblegum on the outside, cool blue irony/agony on the inside. The comic is exactly what it looks like: hilarious, weird, and a little bit dark. What’s the worst thing, the most embarrassing thing, that’s happened to you this year and how did you turn it into comedy? (There was this goose, you see…) That’s fodder for Snackies. Nick Sumida just does it cuter than we do.