Failure is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever read/experienced in the world of comics. It’s from Karl Stevens who you may know. In fact some part of your brain is itching at the mention of his name. Failure is actually a collection of his comics from The Boston Phoenix and if his name sounds familiar it’s because he was let go from the paper for a strip that said Bud Light tasted like horse urine. I remember seeing the story make the rounds as people threw up their arms proclaiming bullshit and they were right do so; the jokes on them though as the paper went under just four months after the incident as Stevens’ points out after the introduction of the series. The weekly comic strips that are collected in the volume are… I don’t want to say random, but they’re just pieces of Stevens’ life. Be it himself or his friends, they are scenes of life captured in comic form. There is no overall narrative running from beginning to end, especially when you consider the amount of accumulated time that’s collected within its pages. As he points out in the opening, occasionally he would venture away from reality and present more comedic or surreal entries. All of this combines to form Failure, which is a strange title considering this book is anything but.
Now here’s the thing about this book. I couldn’t really point out any one page or story that I liked. Usually with a book like this, that has a very anthology feel to it, I would give you glimpses at what awaits you. With this book though I can’t, but I liked it as a whole. I think that it’s important that it exists and that Stevens produces more work like it. The slice of life he captures was familiar and while strange sometimes it was also very intimate. For instance, you know that thing you do when you’re alone? I mean like really alone, that thing you do when there isn’t a chance in the world of anyone seeing you doing it? It can be anything: a weird voice, skipping around, whatever it is… you have something. In a way Stevens has captured those moments from himself and his friends and it’s kind of magical. I may not be able to capture the essence of the book with a summary of the stories, but I hope that you get the idea what to expect.
The art is fantastic. It almost has to be due to the content of the stories. It’s incredibly photorealistic and I would venture to say that Stevens has the potential to be one of this generations finest illustrators. At times you’ll honestly think that it’s just a photo that’s been run through a photoshop filter, but if you actually look closely at the details and the brush and line work you’ll see otherwise. When the comic gets surreal, Stevens will occasionally change his style. At one point he makes fun of Garfield and it’s clear that he could match Jim Davis’ style perfectly if he wanted to, but he chooses to adjust it just enough that you know what it is without it looking exactly like Garfield. The art and visual storytelling was really what kept me going through the book and I couldn’t get enough.
You may not read this book and have the story change your life. There are several single page comics that I enjoyed and thumbing through again stopped to re-read. The thing is I don’t think the story content is as important as the art or just the fact that something like this exists. I doubt the average comic fan that has their Marvel to DC pull-list is going to pick it up and if on the off chance they do… probably won’t “get it.” And that’s okay. It’s not for them; it’s for someone like me that wants to experience sequential storytelling in a way that others haven’t tried before. It’s for someone that can understand the story that’s here and not be confused when the very next page is something completely new. I’m glad that this book exists and I hope that we’ll see more from Stevens. If what I’ve said is interesting to you then please check out the book and support an incredible collection of work.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Karl Stevens
Publisher: Alternative Comics