There’s a high level of cool playing off a serious case of regret in the always engaging graphic novel, “Pretentious Record Store Guy,” by Carlos Gabriel Ruiz. As a fellow traveler in cartooning as well as hipster preoccupations, I can say that Ruiz has concocted something pretty special. It’s like he’s willed to life a particular view with all its quirky faults. Once the shark stops, he is doomed. Ruiz finds a way to keep that shark moving.
This is Guy Valentine’s world and welcome to it. He has the most enormous octopus tattoo on his arm and really cool hair. And he seems to have an unlimited amount of time to plot his course. Well, he seemed to have unlimited time. Guy is discovering there are limits to everything. Maybe he’s been aware that his life is not all it could be. He was missing proper motivation. That’s exactly what he gets in this story that never takes itself too seriously and is loaded with style.
Ruiz does just what is needed to ride a fine edge between satire and a dramatic plot. There’s an interesting static quality to the artwork that reinforces the humor and the disconnection. Guy needs to remain cool and detached. That is both his weakness and his salvation. He doesn’t express any emotion other than looking perpetually morose. His static stare and overall stiffness are what make him who he is. It’s a great look and something that Ruiz developed over time. The book also includes earlier versions of the character as he appeared in an ongoing comic strip. We get to chart the refinement of the character and his story. The fact that Ruiz deliberately tapped into that alienation is perfectly in keeping with Guy’s hipster scene.
The story itself is satisfying. At first, it will bring to mind Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity” as we observe Guy going through his regular routine working at a record store. Guy is put upon by the typical customer’s overall lack of knowledge, style, and authenticity. He is right, of course. But that doesn’t mean that the unwashed masses are so thick as to never fight back. One particularly obnoxious little punk calls Guy out and pegs him for a 35-year-old nobody living in his parent’s basement. That hits a little too close to home for Guy. Anyway, things were already getting sour for him. Somehow, always being on the guest list for all the cool shows just wasn’t enough anymore. That’s when Guy decides he needs to take his band more seriously and that creates its own set of complications.
To round out the package, this book includes a fun grab bag of bonus features like Guy’s endless list of possible names for bands: The Sherlock Holmes Conspiracy, The Sesame Street Walkers, United Parcel Service, Sonic Boom Boom, The George Washington Junior High School Fencing Team Tryouts, and so on. This stuck with me and I found myself coming across my own discoveries. Today, for instance, I read the services at a hair salon and I was struck by a great name for a band. Digital Perm! I just read that some Japanese company owns the copyright to that perm term so I don’t know if that would hold up in court but I digress.
And check out my interview with Carlos Gabriel Ruiz right here.