Remember Joe Matt’s Peepshow? At the height of the early-’90s autobiographical comics craze, Matt pretty much blew the whole thing up by going places even the most honest and/or foolhardy (depending on your point of view) of his contemporaries would dare venture — mostly by being probably a bit too forthright about the depths of his porn addiction, but he also wasn’t afraid to show what a self-centered, one-sided prick he could be in relationships, and frankly I found that far more candid and unsettling than watching him jerk off for page after page (after page, after page — in fact, Matt himself shared a funny story on facebook a couple of years back about meeting Guillermo Del Toro after a movie premier and Del Toro, upon their introduction, remarking to him that “I’m not sure I want to shake this hand”). The end result of all this, near as I can tell, is that there are a lot of readers out there who respect Joe Matt’s work, but have a rather low opinion of the man himself — which, to his credit, doesn’t seem to bother him in the least.
Still, for a time there it felt like the whole autobio genre had played itself out — I mean, where could anybody take it that Matt hadn’t already? Of course, that was before Chester Brown came along with his graphic novel Paying For It : A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being A John, but things had certainly been pretty quiet in the years before that equally self-revealing tome came out, and they’ve been damn quiet since.
So what would happen if a comics creator (or two) decided to take all that brutal “warts-and-all” autobio hyper-realism and actually make it fun as well as cringe-worthy? Such seems to be the premise behind writer James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle’s new — I kid you not — Airboy relaunch for Image Comics. You think Joe Matt shooting his load off in an old sock can’t be topped? Robinson starts this issue with a full-page splash of him sitting on the toilet taking a shit. And things don’t get a lot prettier from there.
Piecing out what’s real from what isn’t is part of the — and I use this term loosely — “fun” here, I suppose, but by the time the writer and artist get together to discuss ideas on how to go about re-introducing readers to the lapsed-into-the-public-domain character last seen on the four-color page by virtue of Eclipse Comics’ short-lived revival in the 1980s — a “meeting of the minds” initially suggested by the writer’s (now ex-, we’re told) wife — it’s pretty clear that standard-issue autobiography has given way to “meta-fiction,” since I highly doubt that the booze-, coke-,and smack-fueled bender that the two of them go on (and that sees them put a cap on their debauchery by having a three-way with some random chick they pick up at a bar) actually happened in reality. And when the character they’re working on shows up in “the real world” on the last page to admonish his creators for their wicked ways, we’re firmly into Grant Morrison territory — although this promises to be a more humorous take on the “meet your maker” trope than anything the shaven-headed Scottish mage has offered up.
Where things go over the next three issues (yes, this is a self-contained mini-series) remains to be seen, but for a book that gives us a good, not-so-hard look at its writer and artist’s cocks, I gotta say, Airboy #1 was was — errrrrmmmm — enjoyable? About the only other place you’re likely to find anything this outright depraved on your LCS shelves is in the pages of Bob Fingerman’s resurrected/rejuvenated Minimum Wage (from which this book borrows it’s aqua-heavy color scheme) — and Image stablemate, wouldn’t ya know? — and to be honest, this title is even more over-the-top and apparently-conscience-free than that one can sometimes be. Whether you take that as an invitation or a warning is, of course, entirely up to you, but it’s safe to say that if you like the one, you’ll probably love the other.
Now, purely as a matter of speculation, I’m thinking that Airboy will probably “live it up” a bit now that he’s “here,” and then the three of them will get on about the business of making a comic together, but we’ll see. This entire project is so far outside of Robinson’s usual “wheelhouse” — I can only imagine what fans of his work on Starman and The Golden Age will make of the proceedings here — that, truly, any predictions as to where we’re headed are probably an exercise in futility.
What’s probably a solid bet, though, is that a sizable number of people won’t be sticking around to find out — the full-bore degeneracy of this first issue will be more than enough to drive off anyone who’s wandered in unaware, or who was expecting anything like a “traditional” take on the semi-forgotten fictional flying ace of WWII. Whatever “culture clash” ensues promises to be a memorable one, but probably not one that the faint of heart (or stomach) will opt to partake in.
Which means, of course, that I’m all in, dysfunctional reprobate that I am. And if you’re smart, you will be, too. Obviously, shame and self-respect are right out the fucking window with Airboy from the get-go, so hey — bad pun totally intended (sorry) — the sky’s the limit!