Friday, 26 November 2010

Review; Spleenal

Normally, I find something worrying about a book that advertises itself as being ‘non-PC’ as Spleenal does at the start. It’s a pet hate of mine. ‘Non-PC’ is usually shorthand for all standards of decency, good manners and human rights being thrown out of the window as if it’s no naughtier than eating two helpings of ice cream or ignoring somebody knocking at the front door. If Hitler were around today, he would probably try and get elected appealing to the ‘non-PC’ vote. I would rather creative types forgot all about political correctness and just got on with whatever their ‘thing’ is. In fact, Spleenal is only ‘non-PC’ in regards to sexual activity. None of the characters, for example, make tiny minded observations based on somebody’s race, for example. If you’re buying this book for a true, all rounded, ‘non-PC’ experience, then you might be disappointed.

As it happens, Nigel Auchterloune seems to get on with doing his ‘thing’ in Spleenal exactly as I had hoped, as if the opening blurb was written after the actual hard work of drawing the strips was finished. (Who would have thought that such a thing could happen?) Spleenal is the name of Auchterloune’s male lead. Pushing middle age, married with two kids, stuck in a job he despises, desperate for some free time to devote to his passion for cartooning (sounds familiar) and as horny as hell, Spleenal is the cathartic parody of the everyman (if everyman is pushing middle age). In Spleenal’s Spanky Comic, he is contacted by a female admirer of his work who lists her interests as “boys and girls, porn, sex toys, comics, anal, bondage, submission and spanking”. His first thought is “wow, she likes comics”. Spleenal goes through a battle of the heart, mind and genitals and, of course, the genitals win but it’s never as simple as that. He’s unconvincing in the master and submissive role play he finds himself taking part in, while his wife, who learns about the fling, goes through her own heart/mind/genitals turmoil on a par with her husband’s.

Auchterloune’s cartooning is zany but stylish. Characters’ heads take up half the size of their bodies while some don’t have any arms at all, their hands operating seemingly independently from their torsos. The pacing is crazy and kinetic. In The Day After The End Of Time, Future Spleenal gives a time machine to Present-day Spleenal who then travels to the past to tell Past Spleendal not to have sex with his Future/Present wife so that he’s free to draw comics all day. Before long, all the Spleenals are travelling up and down time, having sex with women and sex-bots and then trying to warn their other selves not to have sex with these women and sex-bots. It isn’t until the end of this great time travel sex farce that somebody asks Present Spleenal why he didn’t just use the time machine to get next weekend’s lottery results so he could then give up his miserable job and focus on his vacation. It had never occurred to him to do this just as I was so caught up in the story that it never occurred to me. Auchterloune understands that the idea of travelling back in time and having sex with your wife twenty years ago is more compelling than fiddling the lottery results to a middle aged man, which is what makes this book so funny.

Spleenal is bookended by two shorts featuring a horny adolescent Spleenal and a horny child Spleenal. The pacing in both of these tales feels slower, as if they work as a warming up and down to and from the main stories. They also offer unexpected insights into how the character became the wretched, sex obsessed middle aged fool he is today. In the book’s afterword, Auchterloune claims that Spleenal isn’t based on himself or true incidences. Although technically true I’m not sure this is entirely truthful given how the narratives in his stories follow what seem to be such compelling flights of fancy. What is true is Auchterloune also draws for The Dandy and it makes sense, I suppose, for somebody who draws strips for pre-school kids all day to crave an outlet in the other, more entertaining and liberating extreme.

Stats! Spleenal is published by Blank Slate and retails for £10.99 soft cover, or £16.99 limited edition hard cover.

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