Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Cute Girl Network by Means, Reed, & Flood

Jack is a world-class doofus: forgetful, easily distracted, socially inappropriate, with the work ethic and go-get-'em energy of a particularly contented sloth. But does that mean that no girl in his home town of Brookport should ever date him again?

That's the question that the graphic novel The Cute Girl Network asks: if you can learn all of the stupid, thoughtless, misguided, and ill-conceived things done in past relationships by your new love, will you be willing to go for it anyway?

It's co-written by Greg Means (writer/editor/librarian, making his comics debut) and MK Reed (who also wrote the graphic novel Americus, which I found much more heavy-handed and obvious than the sprightly and sunny Cute Girl Network), with art by Joe Flood (who did a graphic novel called Orcs: Forged for War [1] with Stan Nicholls). And it's very much a downtown, punky romantic comedy in comics form -- the story of two young people with flaws to spare and how they met each other.

Jack runs a Soup Dudes cart on a busy corner: it's about the right level of responsibility for such a world-class slacker, and it gives him all the free soup and drinks he can handle. One day Jane comes by on her skateboard, falls down in front of the cart, and gets a bottle of iced tea for her sore coccyx. That's the meet-cute: Jack is falling for Jane almost immediately, and soon he's dating her, in his low-budget, hazily-vague way. (Someone mentions midway through the book that Jack doesn't drink, he's just naturally half-drunk. This is mildly inaccurate: he's depicted as someone just very slightly stoned all of the time -- two or three hits in and blinking madly to get the world to make sense.)

Jane is new in town, but her friend Harriet sees her with Jack and introduces her to the Network. All of the young women of the town -- or enough of them to be good enough for statistical purposes -- have loosely affiliated to share histories and details about young men they have dated, when queried from within the network. And there's quite a wealth of information on Jack provided quickly to Jane, none of it complementary. He gave one girlfriend an action movie for a birthday present; he went out to buy cumin for another and only came back three days later; he told one girl's mom about the time her knee went out while they were having sex. Jack, Jane quickly learns, is flaky at the best of times, almost constitutionally incapable of remembering things that should be important, and hugely prone to inadvertently saying the wrong thing.

Harriet -- and most of Jane's other female friends -- think the lesson is clear: she should dump Jack immediately, before he gets the chance to give her a story for the Network. Their point is that he's a proven failure and screw-up: he's not worth another chance.

On the other side, Jack's roommate Gil is s stereotypical chauvinist "bro" -- all "make me a sandwich" and giving Jack advice on how to keep Jane in line and keep her from developing high expectations. His advice is equally negative, though in the opposite direction -- and Means and Reed may mean to imply that Jack has followed that advice, badly, a few times in the past.

So: on the one side there's a Greek chorus of girls, all chanting to dump him. On the other is an uncouth friend, saying Jack might as well dump her first, so he can at least be the one to end it. And in the middle are Jack and Jane.

Cute Girl Network is a chatty book, full of dialogue -- Jack's very meandering, Jane's more pointed, and the Cute Girls pointedly demanding. There's a lot of stories in here, with the Cute Girls version of what happened, sometimes Jack's explanations to Jane, and some stories about Jane's own past, too. Jack and Jane are appealing distinct characters who are great for each other, and the reader roots for them to stay together. Because, after all, even world-class doofuses deserve a shot at love.

[1] I read and reviewed this book, but it was for Realms of Fantasy, so I can't link to it. Damn paper media!

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