Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 262 (10/23) -- 120 Days of Simon by Simon Gardenfors

Magnificent bastards are rare, and should be celebrated when we find them. Simon Gardenfors is one such man: a few months before turning 29, this Swedish cartoonist/musician/rapper [1] decided to sublet his Stockholm apartment for four months and spend his time couch-surfing across the country, living and mooching off his fans and anyone else who'd sign up to host him on a website he had designed for the project. (Along the way, in a particularly classy touch, he expected to sleep around as much as possible -- he makes a point of not starting a possible relationship to remain unencumbered for his epic sojourn.) It's not quite a Tucker Max-level of rudeness, but it's definitely a ballsy, massively self-centered thing to do.

Oh, and I missed the most important point -- the reason for the trip was explicitly to gather material for a graphic novel. This one: The 120 Days Of Simon.

So, on March 1st, 2007, Simon set out on his trip, with the plan to spend no more than two nights in the same place. The plan was also to drink as much as possible, eat as much as possible, sleep around ditto, and, in general, just have a good time. (His second host, as he depicts it here, was a high school senior who took him to a bar and then to the kindergarten where she worked: to smoke hash, make out, and then have sex. That's the Platonic ideal of the trip, and it happened on day two.) The book isn't entirely about Simon having a ball: he also worries about the fellow cartoonist, Jonna Bjornstjerna, who he dated a bit before the trip (and thinks he might be falling in love with), and has some drama with the parents and older brother of one of the girls who signed up to host him so she could get into his pants. But it's mostly low-key slacker good times, with Simon at the head of a band of twenty-something (and some late teen) Swedes with nothing particular to do with their time and lots of diversions to dive into.

Gardenfors tells this story in a black-and-white style (reversed, so that most of the backgrounds are black) reminiscent of 1920s animation, all pipe-stem limbs and caricatured faces. He also only puts two large panels, one above the other, on each of the nearly four hundred pages, giving a lot of focus to each moment but still allowing himself enough room to tell lots of vignettes from these four months. That design helps lighten and soften 120 Days, inevitably a story with a lot of random casual sex and drug use in it -- Gardenfors's figures make that all endearing and quirkily lovable, instead of sordid. But it's still a story about fleeing responsibility and living in the moment, with almost exclusively good things happening to Simon because of it, and that may annoy some readers. (Especially those, like me, with a mortgage and responsibilities and family that's not so easily chucked aside for a gallivant through the couches and beds of one's acquaintances.) If someone was going to do this, it's good that it was Gardenfors -- he has an apparently unflinching eye and a willingness to report anything that happens to him, if it'll make a good anecdote.


[1] He's in a band called Las Palmas, which seems to have given him a higher profile than just being a cartoonist would. In fact, the whole reason this project was feasible seems to be the band -- the trip worked around several gigs, and a number of his hosts mention the band as how they knew him.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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