Ah look, I’m reviewing another book you probably never heard of. Don’t you try to change me. Here’s the deal, I’d never heard of this book until last week, but a friend of mine showed it to me, and flipping through, I thought “this is the kind of book to review on Friday!” Actually, my friend thought so too. I have a type. Also it’s still black and white. I know I said I’d try for color, but sometimes things just don’t work out the way you plan, do they? Anyway, enough of that, let’s go!
Lucky in Love (nothing to do with Lucky Luke, mind you) is part one of a graphic novel series written by George Chieffet and drawn by Stephan DeStefano. It was published by, wait for it as I say a small prayer, Fantagraphic Books. You know, the one’s doing the Lord’s work (trademark). It’s definitely a strange little book, so let’s get into it.
As I said, this is book one, titled “A Poor Man’s History.” This in reference to the fact that this plays as a fictional autobiography (the poor man’s history) of the main character, Lucky Testatuda. Lucky is a short, scrappy Italian American living in New Jersey. The book is split into three parts: Lucky as a teenager, Lucky in WWII, and Lucky after the war. The story focuses on his exploits (or maybe his lack thereof) throughout these experiences. We see his youth, running with his wild friends, chasing girls, and going to movies. We see him in the army, where he’s a mechanic who doesn’t see battle. Lastly we see his return home, where he finds he no longer fits in to his prewar home. The second book must pick up from there, until his old age, where we see him at the very beginning. It’s a relatively small book, but it covers some big events.
Lucky is the kind of character that basically spends his life compensating for his size. In the very beginning he mentions that he stands at 5 foot 3. This sticks with him throughout the book as he acts bigger, and perhaps tougher, than he really is. However, I don’t think it’s all his fault, because his stature is always mentioned by others. And, as he continues to grow, in the army and beyond, he continues to act like he knows more than he knows, and is more experienced in both fighting, street smarts, and sex, than he really is. We are exposed to his reality and the projections he gives. It’s interesting, since this is an “autobiography,” we see things as they happen, and we know the experience Lucky really has, leaving his lies exposed. But, again, it comes back to his stature. Plus, this book really immerses us in the culture of the 40s, when everyone had to be tough!
These images will be kind of unrelated, because it’s hard to find good pictures online of this comic.
This immersion is really quite strong. We see the growing urban life of cities, the war, and the movie culture of the 40s. This includes an intriguing examination of the western movie heroes that were big in those days. But, it also delves into a more realistic look at the 40s. I think when we think back to those times, being as removed as we are, it’s easy to get an idealistic picture of America. Everyone was noble, beating up Nazis. Nothing was seedy, nothing was raw. But we see a lot of Lucky’s sexual frustration, and the realities of war. Both fighting, and dying, and being stationed on a base. The latter taking away some of the romanticized picture of WWII we’ve adopted from movies. This is amplified by Lucky’s post war experience, when he feels out of place, spends most of his time drinking, and fudging the truth about his service. He is not a noble, clean as a whistle 40s man that we’ve come to picture when looking back to the days of WWII.
Now, I think what really hits the story home for the reader is its art. DeStefano has an art style, at least in this book, that is reminiscent of classic 40s and 50s animation. This makes sense to me, since it’s set during the 40s. I also found that the art reminded me of Tezuka’s Astro Boy and, at times, the work of R. Crumb. Now, I did read that DeStefano has a background in animation as well, which helps explain this cartoon look. However, I think the art style was chosen carefully.
See, I think the biggest thing the art does for the story, and for the reader, is create a feeling of cognitive dissonance. See, you’re looking at this old school animation art (think classic Disney) on the surface. But what’s happening in that Art? Lucky is looking at porno magazines, there is some sexual content (you do see mature images), we see the depiction of the seedier side of urban life (drinking, stealing, etc.) and not to mention a significant amount of racism. I should say, on that note, that there is a disclaimer in the beginning that addresses the use of racial slurs. It is very much a period piece, and the dialogue seems pretty believable, from what I know. They can be a little jarring, but reading them in context of the story, it’s clear the authors don’t hold these opinions. Also, there were a lot of slurs I’ve never heard before. It was weird.
Anyway, imagine all that coming from a Disney character. Imagine if Donald Duck said, “all Eyetalians have crooked cocks.” Actual quote from the book. It stops your brain in its tracks. This art and story does make it a very interesting experience, as you have to work with a words and pictures that seem to be on different levels. But, it’s this kind of dissonance that made this book stand out to me. Plus, it is printed on a browned paper, which helps to make it seem even more like a 40s comic. The creators of this comic really pulled out stops to make you feel like everything was really happening “back then.” It lent itself to a legitimacy of period story telling that few comics achieve.
Hey, can you believe it? I talked a lot more about the art this week! I’m really developing as a human, right? Anyway, I’ll have to see if I can find volume two and see what happens to our weird pal Lucky. I do recommend this book, but only if you can handle sexual situations and an unyielding realism to its time period. But, put your faith in Fantagraphics. Have I led you astray yet? Wait, don’t answer that.