Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Eltingville Club by Evan Dorkin

When they said that bile could only take you so far, they didn't count on Evan Dorkin.

Well, maybe they did -- how far is he? Despite the love of (I don't want to guess how many) devoted fans, he works in comics only sporadically these days, and I have no idea if that's because animation pays so much more or because of his issues with pain in his drawing hand or because everyone in Team Comics thinks he's a big meanie and shuns him. Let me assume the former: it's always more pleasant to think that people you like and respect have wonderful, fulfilling lives and are hugely happy and successful.

But it's hard to keep that thought in mind when reading The Eltingville Club, the high-water mark of Dorkin's bile -- and probably close to the high point of bile in the history of the human race.

(By the way, Eltingville is a real neighborhood -- I believe a vaguely suburbanoid area out on Staten Island. Where I work in NYC, I see express buses with "Eltingville" on their signs pretty often, which is always a tiny shock.)

No one else can hate comics -- and the particular horrible kinds of comics people -- as much as Dorkin does, or as specifically. And, more than twenty years ago, Dorkin gathered all of his bile at the comics world into "The Eltingville Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Role-Playing Club!," a 1994 short story about the four horrible teen boys in that club and the horrible things they do to each other and the rest of the world in pursuit of the hobbies that Dorkin heavily hints are also horrible. It was a critical success, and widely loved by the kind of comics readers who like to hate themselves or their fellow fans. (And that's most of us -- I'm not proud to say it, but it's true.)

So Dorkin came back to the Eltingville group, every once a year or so when he'd gathered up enough appalling things in the comics world to fuel another eight pages or so, for another near-apocalyptic story in which they lay waste to themselves or a house or a store or the lives of everyone around them or all of that simultaneously. The four Eltingville lads are deeply horrible people, but they're verbally horrible in that pop-culture way, all references and insults and mean-spirited trivia contests and in-group insults. Each story is draining, as it must be -- the expression of another year's worth of anger at the stupid things that comics/SF/gaming people do to each other and the world.

This book collects all of those stories together -- twenty years of the worst of fannish behavior in a fictional form, including the self-parody "The Northwest Comix Collective," plus some production art from the failed animated Eltingville TV pilot -- in a book that is difficult to read straight through. The Eltingville boys are so destructive, of themselves, their supposed friends, and the rest of the world, that they're best taken in small homeopathic doses. Still, having all of their rampages together in one book is a great thing.

Comics fans are not really like this. Eltingville is a parody. But it's not as far off as it may seem. It's as cutting as it is because we've known people who are nearly this bad, and have had some similar thoughts in our own heads. So it's both entertainment and an object lesson, a signpost to show how far we could go if we weren't worried about going too far.

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