Some stories make you feel good, some stories make you feel sad, and some stories, such as Noah Van Sciver‘s Saint Cole, published by Fantagraphics, make you experience a full range of emotions. Recently I had the pleasure of reading the eighth issue of Fantagraphics NOW: The New Comics Anthology, in which Noah gets introspective and looks back at his cartoonist experiences, including some thoughts on his second long form published comic, Saint Cole. I liked the title when I originally read it, and after reading NOW I just had to return to it, 4 or 5 years since I first checked it out. Ever read it yourself? Well you should, and I’m going to tell you about it to get you enthralled.
Saint Cole is a tale of ennui featuring a listless protagonist named Joe. In his life Joe finds himself lost in a labyrinth of his own making composed of relationship issues, an unplanned child he’s ill-equiped to care for, a dead end job, copious amounts of alcohol, the inability to pay rent and a couple of new features: a deadbeat mother who isn’t his and a coworker he SWEARS fancies him. Traversing the maze with him is the other half of those relationship issues, Nicole, who invited her mother to their shanty 2 bedroom apartment under the assumption that she just needs to land on her feet. Suffice it to say, she stays a bit too long, and when Nicole has to leave to live her own life and not Joe’s for a bit, things get intense. Meanwhile at work, Joe’s tab is getting hefty and the snuck sips in between tables aren’t doing him any favors. Add a little misunderstood kindness and Joe is all prepped for a very unfortunate situation.
Alright, so that description probably sounds bleak, but that’s vaguely condensing 112 pages into a paragraph. In actuality, I would consider this book to be a black comedy, and at some point when things happen to Joe you have to say “ah geez man, what are you doing?” Some of the banter in the book also contains it’s fair share of wit, especially in some of the side characters in Joe’s life. Where this book really shines is how the events occur. All of these mistakes our main man is making continue to escalate and feed into each other, quickly ramping up to a climax that [in the spirit of the character] culminates in one big joke. A good, slow burning joke. I think that was a point that Noah was trying to convey with this story. A lot of life can be bad but at some point you just have to say “well… fuck” and hope that an act of god lends you a hand.
Though this is an early work of Noah’s I thought the art was incredibly involved. He has a very distinct style so you would know right away it was him, but all the same the way he draws the world of Saint Cole and a constantly busy city is something to be admired. Through side/background characters, weather, and traffic Joe lives in a world that feels occupied, resulting in Joe’s experiences feeling more realistic. It isn’t just the cityscape though, it’s the physicality in general. When Joe is at work the other employees have props and interactions that all make sense within a pizzeria. Even the monstrous mother has a few ways of moving, whether it be smoking or lounging, that feels honestly natural. Also, just for the sake of mentioning, I know black and white printing is sort of the nature of the beast but there is something about stories that take place during snow/rain with lots of stark black and white that just feels right and this here book has plenty of snow/rain.
Noah Van Sciver is an inarguable talent. Between his self published comics and those published by Fantagraphics there hasn’t been a single title I haven’t enjoyed. If you’re a fan of his work and want to see an earlier example of it, with a generally interesting look at a self destructing protagonist, this is the title to read. Also, I mentioned it earlier but I recommend reading his story in NOW #8 as well. It’s a good bookend end to the saga and a look at what this title means to Noah. Neat Stuff! Where can you buy these two books? You can grab Saint Cole here and you can pick up NOW #8 here.