Friday, August 31, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #243: Sick by Gabby Schulz

You know, I think Gabby Schulz may just be a tad bit dramatic.

It's a feeling I have -- partially based on my readings of his earlier books Monsters and Welcome to the Dahl House, partially because he can't seem to decide if he is "Ken Dahl" or "Gabby Schulz," and partly because Sick is possibly the most self-dramatizing book I've ever seen in my life.

Admittedly, it's the record of a time Schulz thought he might be dying, which does tend to concentrate the mind. (But, then again, says the contrarian part of my mind -- didn't he recover from this fever without any medical intervention? Isn't it possible that he's just really, really whiny when he's sick?)

And, of course, it's a book: the only record we have of Schulz's sickness is what he tells us himself, on large comics pages soaked in bile and misery, full of jaundice yellow and starless black. It could all be fiction. Just because it's by someone named Gabby Schulz and about someone named Gabby Schulz doesn't mean it's meant to be taken literally.

But I think it is. I think Schulz means every word, every pen-stroke of this book, and that's the way he works in comics: heart on the sleeve at all times, everything out there and exposed, all raw nerves and naked emotion and pure pleading about what he thinks are the most important things at every moment. It would be an exhausting way to live; it can be overwhelming even in a short graphic novel like this one -- particularly one so oversized and focused on the negative as Sick.

Gabby Schulz is negative. Everything I've seen of his work, under either name, is all about the things he loathes and can't stand -- himself always first and foremost among them. Schulz is the kind of left-winger who is both contorted into knots by his unearned privilege as a white American man and sent into a frenzy by the horrible treatment he continuously endures as an unskilled worker in that clearly hellish American society. His getting sick seems to mostly be of interest as a way to ramp up the self-loathing to ever greater heights -- to show how much he can really hate things when he gets going.

Sick is a book in which there is nothing good. There can be nothing good. To be Gabby Schulz is to be cursed: the most horrible human that ever lived, worthless and pitiful and also complicit in the worst society in the history of the world, a pyramid of horrors piled on top of each other without end.

Schulz realizes this, in a way: the book is in large part his own arguments to himself that life -- his life, specifically -- is worthless and horrible and better ended, and his feeble occasional moments of fighting against that sense.

It's not a book to read if you are in any way depressed, or suicidal, or unhappy about life. Only the sunniest of Pollyannas could read Sick without flinching, or worse.

All this is presented in vibrant, eye-catching, torn-from-his-heart art -- glorious in its hideousness and spleen. And his words are precise if not measured: always pushing further and always obsessively circling that same central conceit: that to be Gabby Schulz is a horrible, terrible, worthless thing, even more so when he has a fever.

I can't exactly recommend this book. It's so far over the top there's cloud cover obscuring its lower reaches. It is absurdly strident about its every last thought. But it is hugely impressive, and uniquely powerful, and utterly itself. It is Sick. Take that word in whatever sense you like.

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