Spent will leave readers either greatly amused or quite leery of comic book artists who decide to air their personal lives in the sequential art medium. Those with a good sense of reality and a great taste for humor should fall into the former category.
Joe is not by any means a successful artist. He has done some work but certainly has not made a name for himself. His other comic friends also struggle to eke out a living. But Joe has a dream of financial freedom someday: his determination to invest every penny he can make until he can simply live off the interest is balanced by a mundane, rather pathetic life in which he constantly bemoans the loss of past loves, wishes his roommates dead, and engages in pedantic discussions among his friends. The only other habit that he is truly passionate about also remains a matter of contention and scorn among his friends. Joe has a particular fondness for pornography, a fondness that goes all the way back to his adolescent days trying to catch scantily clad women on late-night television. But his obsession is growing rather extreme.
Spent invokes the legacy of Seinfeld in that, for the most part, it is a book about nothing in particular—that is, there isn’t some great revelation or pinnacle event. Instead, it links together conversations and flashbacks to give an insight into Joe’s life. The humor ranges from slapstick to referential to ironic. Readers cannot help to be amused by the unexciting—even trivial—events in Joe’s life that connect together for this graphic novel.
Joe’s art, like his narrative, balances the mundane and the unique. Interestingly, Joe uses a green, black, and white color scheme for this body of work. The green, of course, could speak to a number of symbols having to do with Joe’s equally unbalanced desires to spend sperm but not money. The layout remains the same through the entire book, an unusual act for most comic artists. Every page contains the same four rows and two columns as the previous one. Though it could be monotonous, that also parallels Joe’s life from year to year as an uninterrupted cycle. His characters are more iconic than realistic, resembling in many ways Scott McCloud more than Robert Crumb, to whom he dedicates the book. It is blatantly obvious that Crumb has influenced Joe when it comes to plot and dialogue.
Joe’s work is as impressive as it may be offensive to the wrong crowds. His easy disposition toward masturbation and the nonchalant manner in which he works it into his graphic novel is rather refreshing. Drawn and Quarterly is known for publishing superior works, and it is understandable why they chose to publish this. Hopefully many others will appreciate the humor and straightforwardness of Joe’s work.