Karl Stevens is quite an impressive artist. Now, he does let himself get tripped up over labels. Stevens confides this with the reader, along with a bunch of other juicy and fun things, in his new autobiographical graphic novel, The Winner, published by Retrofit/Big Planet. Just who is Karl Stevens to think you, the reader, are going to care one way or another as to how he sees himself as an artist and/or cartoonist? Well, he’ll readily admit that he’s confronting the artist’s lot in life of fighting off overwhelming indifference but that’s just the thing. Mr. Stevens is engaging in the fine old tradition of presenting a portrait of the artist and having the reader take of it what they will. In this case, there is much to take and much to celebrate.
I, for one, celebrate the work of Karl Stevens–and I’m sure you will too! I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing his work in the past. I really enjoyed, Failure. This new book carries on that same level of excellent auto-bio along with a foray into other themes. I see here an evolving sense of humor mixing sharp self-deprecation with the wildly absurd. It’s as if Stevens is still too close to the real world gripes that he needs to play with different genres in order to cut loose. Stevens inserts a few segments of sci-fi, fantasy, and even horror, into his auto-bio narrative. These segments are experimental compared to his far more measured and earnest social commentary. Taken as a whole, the reader seems to get to know Stevens through all these various samples of the artist’s life, working process, and work resulting from sources other than direct observation.
Stevens plays up his anti-social and elitist tendencies for the reader. Whether or not the Stevens on the page is the same as the Stevens in private is one of those games that can make you crazy. It doesn’t help that Stevens has such a deliciously realistic style that lures the reader in. The writing is crisp, the dialogue is sharp and natural. So, sure, you can easily lose yourself in these wonderful scenes of Steven ranting about the mindless masses while his wife, Alex, nudges him into a reality check. I suspect that there’s more truth to these scenes than fiction and that’s totally okay, better than okay! Stevens knows how to kid. For someone who can so consistently conjure up such exquisite work, the man has earned himself the right to complain as much as he wants about the dire state of affairs and us less than noble humans.
Getting back to the genre-hopping going on here, I think Stevens is still figuring out what he wants from this. Right now, I see an artist/writer of high caliber flexing his muscles and testing things out. That said, his work can be quite visually appealing. And his humor is wry, dry, and often silly. As it stands right now, I think Stevens is heading in a very interesting direction. I am curious to see how Stevens continues to intertwine his real world with the supernatural.
The Winner is a 104-page full cover trade paperback, now available. For more information and how to purchase, visit Retrofit/Big Planet right here.