Thursday, February 09, 2006

Ivan Brunetti: Heart of Darkness

I stopped by Atomic Books last night to pick up the long-awaited issue #4 of Schizo (published by Fantagraphics Books) by my favorite black-hearted comic artist, Ivan Brunetti. I actually met Mr. Brunetti years ago at DC's Small Press Expo, and interviewed him for my public access TV show, ATOMIC TV (Brunetti appeared with a John Goodman Flintstones movie edition doll that he had modified to look like a Mini-Brunetti, replete with glasses, beard and trademark vest!). Brunetti is brilliant, an incredibly well-read, well-versed, well-dressed, talented artist but the reason I love him is his heart of darkness. No one is as cynical, morose or despairing as Brunetti, who is even more miserable than Doestoyesky's Underground Man, more bitter than Ambrose Bierce, more loathing of humanity than Pol Pot He even told me that his name literally translates in Italian as "little shit-brown man." Yes, Brunetti is one of those textbook pessismists who sees Bobbitt's penis as being half off rather than half on. But he's also amazingly funny (albeit in an Abyss staring back at you kind of way)!

To understand Brunetti, one need only look at his worship of Charles Schulz, who he considered the "Brando of Comics". For everything you need to know about Mr. B is in Peanuts, the comic strip he calls an "epic haiku." In his mind it redefined newspaper strips by bringing a psychological depth and raw emotion to the funnies. In his front-cover strip for Schizo #4, "Wither Shermy?" (Shermy was an early Peanuts character and a boy of firsts - he spoke the first line of dialogue in the debut strip and played first base on the baseball team), Brunetti waxes poetic on Schulz and his strip, calling his humor "at once tender, melancholy, joyous and savage" and lauding Peanuts for its redefinition of the "gag strip" in which jokes are often replaced with "merely a lingering sense of pain or sadness." No better words could be used to describe Brunetti's own work. But in place of Charlie Brown ducking as a baseball flies over his head on the pitcher's mound or falling on his back as Lucy once again pulls the football away from him during a field kick, substitute a panel showing Ivan Brunetti blowing his brains out or dangling from a noose. And then having someone piss or shit on his decaying corpse! (Did I mention he's dark? Darker than Turkish coffee?)

Schizo #4 shows the depth of the despair in Brunetti's depressing world view. In Schizo issues 1-3 he obsessed over his soured marriage and hellish divorce while he eked out a living as a freelance illustrator and comic book artist. These days, he lives with his two cats and an antique mannequin named Iris while working as a Web designer (which he describes in his Website bio as being "a cruel irony of fate for this hermit-like, nostalgic Luddite"). And his relationship with the world has gotten even worse, if that's imaginable. His strips in Schizo #4 show the effects of his increasing withdrawal from the oustide world into the safety of the nostalgic past, with celebrity bio strips dedicated to such ill-fated, lonely, or misunderstood idols as Louis Brooks, Francois Hardy, Erik Satie, Val Lewton, Soren Kierkegaard, Piet Mondrian, and nasty French misanthrope Joris-Karl Huysmans.

The recurring motif throughout all the Schizo strips is the plight of the artist to die poor and unrecognized in today's cultural Babylon, the agony of unrequited love, the torment of over-analysis, and, as one strip is entitled, "The Horror of Simply Being Alive." Brunetti seems to be constantly at battle with himself, despising his "bumbling, corpulent mass," plagued by fear and self-doubt, unable to get through work days without "happy pills" or sleepless nights without alcohol or thoughts of suicide. Even when he writes that he finds himself having sex with "the most beautiful girl in the world," he can't enjoy the moment, whining "Of course, I dread the moment when the relationship will implode...better not let myself get too happy."

Don't worry Ivan, that'll never happen! Even though the word is that he's getting married again, it's doubtful that the institution of matrimony will change his world view (at least, not going by his starter marriage!).

I'm just a little afraid of how much Brunetti and I have in common. He loves stupid Sanrio products, the Marx Brothers, Francois Hardy, Frank Capra, and pornography just like me. But we draw the line at his obsession with Drew Barrymore. I can handle gag panels of characters guzzling AIDS-infected blood, but Drew worship? I'll never be that sick!

Related Links:
Ivan Brunetti's Website
Atomic Books
Fantagraphics Books
2002 Chicago Artists of the Year - Ivan Brunetti (City Pages)
Suicide Girls Interview
Comic Book Galaxy Interview


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