“Richy Vegas Comics,” by Richard Alexander, are what you would consider very personal and decidedly out of the mainstream. It reminds me a little of the work of Daniel Johnston. Based upon reading numbers 8 and 9 of this ongoing comic, I get the picture of what he’s doing and I can offer up some comments. For those who follow my reviews, you know that, at times, I’ll expand upon the review and make some general observations. I also want to discuss here personal comics in general.
Within the world of alternative comics, there’s room for a wide spectrum of autobiographical, or personal, comics. These sort of comics have an inherently alienating aspect to them that a cartoonist needs to be mindful of. This alienating character can be found in any art form. I think comics lend themselves quite well to this as you have a potentially perfect storm set up right from the start. Creating comics is essentially solitary work, especially comics about yourself. So, it can be hard to embrace editing your story when you’re the one writing and drawing it as well. A cartoonist has already drawn a line in the sand declaring that they have a story to tell and they know the best way to tell it.
When I look at Alexander’s work, I am taken with some of his style choices. He favors circular panels with the text running around the panel. You’ll also find text running in odd angles or there will be circles within circles with text. He’s an artist who wants to make you work to understand his work. It’s an intriguing technique that adds to the tension. And, if you’re going to make your readers work, then all the more reason to make every word count. Here, it can be a bit hit or miss as I see Alexander allowing himself to ramble more than necessary to tell his tale efficiently. His observations about school, roommates, relationships, and everyday life can feel like too much information. There will certainly be fans who want to know every last detail too. But editing will make for stronger work.
Again, speaking generally, what happens when you don’t edit your work and you allow yourself to be enthralled by the intoxicating allure of creating work of staggering genius is that it will inevitably fall short. This doesn’t stop countless aspiring cartoonists from ignoring common wisdom. Comics also have the underserved distinction of being looked upon by many as something you don’t need to work very hard at. Not true.
In the case of the work of Richard Alexander, he has a lot of interesting things going on. Overall, he needs to find ways to engage his audience. He needs to filter out his narrative. He’s getting there but he does need to break some bad habits and really get in there and create a bond with his readers. Of course, he may think he’s already established a bond. And I’m sure he’s received encouragement over the years. But even the best cartoonists are always thinking about their readers.
Consider the work of John Porcellino. Here is a cartoonist who is not afraid to reveal some very personal aspects to his life. And yet, in the spirit of the great essayist, Montaigne, he knows what to include and what to leave out. Inevitably, it’s all for the sake of the art, the narrative, the storytelling. You engage with your readers. If not, then you face the consequences.
Sure, any cartoonist, anyone in general, will have their own personal life struggle to contend with. I appreciate that Alexander wants to evoke that in his work. And that’s good. In fact, there are moments in his work where he really nails it. Consider the panel I open this review with where he shares with us a heartbreaking moment. Clearly, the couple depicted here are not connecting. As one attempts a kiss, the other retreats. In his circular text, Alexander says, “When we kissed at my door, it felt dead at the end.” It’s a wonderful panel. If it took Alexander a long way to get to just that one moment, it was worth it. Fortunately for him, he’s demonstrated his ability to reach that level and I sense he’s eager to go further.
All this said, I would encourage anyone interested in personal comics to explore the world of Richy Vegas Comics. You can say you knew about it way back when, before corporate interests embraced it. As I’ve said in the past, some comics are meant to remain under the radar and some will find a way to bigger audiences. Richy Vegas Comics are somewhere in between. I wouldn’t be surprised to find it breaking out to a wider audience if that’s what Alexander chooses to focus on.
Visit Richard Alexander’s website right here.