Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #205: Love's Not a Three Dollar Fare by Terry LaBan

Before there were hipsters, there were slackers. (Though this is still after both hippies and bohemians.) Young people who aren't particularly interested in the rat race are always scorned and despised by the wider culture -- because if they can avoid the normal trappings of adulthood and still have interesting lives, what kind of chumps are we? -- but the label, and some of the specific mud thrown, changes over the years.

Terry LaBan's first comics series, Unsupervised Existence, was about slackers, or maybe whatever came just before slackers: the young and aimless and confused at the end of the 1980s. The spine of that 1989-1992 series was collected in 1995's Love's Not a Three Dollar Fare, which I just read semi-randomly. (My library system had a copy, and I've never read LaBan's comics -- I've seen his newspaper strip Edge City now and then, but that's a very different thing.)

Unsupervised Existence, as far as I can tell, had a large cast, and it looks like LaBan wandered out into the further reaches of that cast as time went on. (And then he moved on to other things, as we all do.) But the core of this book, and what looks like the center of Unsupervised Existence, is the young couple of Danny and Suzy. He's a wanna-be poet who drives a cab for a living -- probably not thirty, but not far away. She's the kind of "intellectual" for whom actually making decisions or taking care of herself is too much agida. (I have a lot less sympathy for characters like her now than I did when I was that age -- I want to yell at her to shut up, suck it up, and go get a job. But it's twenty-plus years later, so all of the real Suzies of 1989 have long since done all of that.) They're not central to all of the stories here -- Suzy's friend Annadette, who is even spacier and less focused than she is, get the spotlight for one long story, and Suzy's rebellious younger brother Bill ends the collection semi-randomly, since he didn't appear in any of the earlier stories -- but they're the core of this group of characters, and most of the stories here circle around them.

LaBan is clearly working in the tradition of the undergrounds -- the more realistic end, from Crumb's autobio stories to Art Spiegelman and Kim Deitch -- to spin out these stories, with a little bit of politics (strikes, abortion, women's circles) and a lot of twenty-something angst. Everyone here wants things desperately, and a few of them are even clear on what it is that they do want. LaBan cares about all of them, and extends his sympathy to all of the characters -- the jerks and the easily emotionally bruised, the teen stoners and the cabbie poets, the lesbians sleeping around and the old girlfriends showing up unexpectedly.

Mostly, he cares about and looks at Danny and Suzy: they're both nakedly emotional, either because they are that young or because they are of that milieu, or some combination of both. Love's Not a Three Dollar Fare contains an awful lot of talking about the relationship -- the relationship here is talking. If you can't stand that level of emotion and openness -- and a certain level of bohemian squalor -- early LaBan is definitely not for you.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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