More Seasons of Gary. Matt MacFarland. zines + things. 2021. 48pp. $7
Matt MacFarland displays a disarming charm in how he presents himself, his family, and his father in particular in his latest book. This is a little comics memoir in the tradition of auto-bio alt-comics: a self-portrait of the cartoonist, warts-and-all.
It’s interesting to note that this story is told in segments, four panels per page, comic strip-sytle. MacFarland uses the comic strip format in order to contain the narrative. What I mean is that this isn’t a collection of previously serialized work. I see part of it on Matt’s Instagram but not as being posted in a deliberate way like a webcomic. He takes a more casual approach which I really dig. In fact, a lot of what he’s posting right now are pages from his Scenes from a Marriage series which is hilarious. Matt has found a method to keep things fresh and concise by using the comic strip format to tell his story. He’s also taking advantage of the fact that we’re so used to reading page after page of comic strips that have been collected to tell a bigger story. Matt’s new book features his father, told in a series of comic strip moments. This format echoes Art Spiegelman’s own recollections of his father albeit on a small compact scale. Matt has narrowed down the stage to the most essential: fleeting moments, heavy with meaning, tied together by the seasons. What emerges is a portrait of the artist’s father, a complicated guy, both difficult and lovable.
By keeping to this comic strip format, MacFarland provides us little windows into his father’s soul, one self-contained little story per page. MacFarland has a lean and crisp way of drawing and storytelling. This series of four-panel comic strips grows on you as one detail is revealed and builds upon the next. We begin with the fall. The first two strips set the tone depicting Matt’s father, Gary, as a less than sensitive guy, with an offbeat sense of humor. The opener shows Gary as a young boy obsessed with creating monster masks. The one after that has Gary describing a horror movie he especially liked to 6-year-old Matt. After Matt screams that he wants to see it, Gary shows him a particularly disturbing scene from it on tape that leaves little Matt in tears.
Truth be told, Gary is hardly a bad guy and Matt doesn’t pick him apart. He’s not digging for dirt but for understanding about his father–and his own life. As we progress, we come to find out that Gary is an alcoholic but that is only part of his story and it doesn’t derail the narrative as one might expect. Mixing up the chronology of events also helps in letting details emerge in a less than obvious way. In a natural course of presenting anecdotes, the reader gets to see Gary interact with an array of people and circumstances. MacFarland manages to navigate a series of challenging periods: the divorce of his parents; the start of his own family; and the death of his father. I especially like a moment Matt has crafted where he’s hiding in a bedroom crying over the news of his father’s death while also calculating in his mind when the dinner guest will finally leave. Of course, when he returns to the kitchen, she’s still seated at the dinner table. That’s classic Matt MacFarland, with a dash of dry and dark humor.