Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 290 (11/20) -- Hey Princess by Mats Jonsson

We were all young and callow once. So the story of "back when I was young and callow" is a common one -- every new writer has one, and it seems, sometimes, as if they're all going to inflict their versions on us, one after another. Those stories are not all equally worthwhile, though, even if the matter of them is all pretty similar -- I was in love with X, X didn't love me, I was left swinging in the breeze, O my poor tormented heart -- and it all depends on how that individual creator turns a very universal story into a particular work of art.

Hey Princess is one such story -- Mats Jonsson was young and callow in Sweden in the mid-90s, and this is the story of how he got somewhat older and slightly less callow by the time that decade ended. But, when the book opens, it's early in 1993 and Jonsson is twenty and very callow indeed, falling deeply in love with Anna, the first girl he ever made out with. That relationship follows the expected path, and the subsequent sections of Hey Princess see Jonsson just having finished one course of studies, but jumping right into another in Stockholm to get away from home (and obsessing over a girl from school he calls "The Bunker"); and then working for a magazine publisher (and falling for "indy girl" Elsa but trying to hide the relationship from his possessive friend Alva); and, finally, another year or so later, getting to be the stable, normal one is a relationship with bipolar Goth girl Ola.

Along the way, Jonsson spends almost as much time writing about his friends and the music they were all listening to, but his love life -- and particularly his self-deprecating, sad-sack outlook on that love life -- is central to Hey Princess. This is the story of how he spent his early '20s, and that includes a lot of drinking, hanging out, and going to see festival concerts, but what he clearly cared about the most during that time was finding a girl he could love, who could love him, and who wasn't crazy. (And what more have any of us ever wanted -- substituting "boy" for "girl" where appropriate?) But Jonsson buries his story under a huge mass of narration and confusion -- his cast is large and ever-changing, and he never adequately introduces new people (or reminds us of who they are later). That self-deprecating voice, too, gets tiring over nearly five hundred pages -- we get that he was young and callow, and that he was young and callow for a very long time, and it reaches a point where we no longer need more examples.

Jonsson's art doesn't help the situation; it's rough, almost primitivist, with flat faces grinning as if out of a teenager's notebook. His people -- even the girls he lusts after -- are all pretty ugly, and it can be difficult to tell the girls from the boys (or remember who is who) as the pages mount up. Hey Princess is a heartfelt outpouring of one man's back pages, an unflinching look at who Mats Jonsson was and what was wrong with him...but that's not enough to make it a great graphic novel.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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