There’s nothing like welcoming in the New Year with something new to fall in love with. For me, at least in the world of comics, it has to be Li’l Depressed Boy, a comic that is as real a testimony of being awkward and melancholy as I have ever read. I’m a comic book nerd who grew up with D&D and a love of The Smiths, The Cure as well as punk and other weird music. I read Li’l Depressed Boy not just as a curious observer but also as somebody who has existed in that world. To my astonishment, the series nails it.
Li'l Depressed Boy #8 is a simple story. Two friends who went to a concert are heading home. What makes it so rich is writer S. Steven Struble’s delicate way with dialog and situations. Little things make up the story, like tiny bits of stitching in a huge tapestry – LDB makes a surly crack about paying for breakfast and then his credit card is denied, the car breaks down, his friend’s realistic questions about Jazz, a girl LDB cares for but has issues expressing his feelings to. The girl in question is very cute (even for a drawing) and open hearted and clearly likes LDB. As is usual, there’s no direct clarity to her feelings and LDB’s inherent issues with opening himself up makes for real tension, even in their brief meeting in issue #8.
It’s all these very real, very connectable moments that will hook you on Li’l Depressed Boy. You instantly feel something for the characters, even if it’s just interest in what they do next. I feel for LDB, I know how it is to be that ill at ease and to hide behind indifference and sarcasm. LDB is never a pitiful character, he has friends, he has interests and even a relationship of sorts with the girl he cares for. It’s refreshing to see a character like this that isn’t just life’s punching bag. My comic book wet dream would be for Struble and Chris Ware to have LDB and Jimmy Corrigan meet in an issue.
Another aspect that makes this series a bit more sophisticated than the average dark or melancholy comic is how understated it is. Usually, these kinds of books are all about how much misery can be heaped onto the main character, or it’s a lot of pop culture references and heaps of screaming and general insanity sprayed in no real direction. With LDB, Struble is focused on telling a real story, not pumping out how hip he can be. It’s the same kind of ability with structure and character that makes Daniel Clowes or Chester Brown so good at what they do.
The art from Sina Grace is just as graceful as the story. His work is very delicate, the line work thin and a bit dream like. Every panel gives off a feeling of LDB’s world being a little outside of our own. His use of muted color really helps bring that out. I’m not sure if this is actual reality or the world through LDB’s eyes, but either way, it’s very effective. Grace’s real stroke of genius is drawing LDB as what looks like a crash dummy or a giant doll. It doesn’t feel like this was done to be cool or different but more so the reader could project himself onto LDB, and therefore connect with the story in a deeper way. Little in comics surprises me anymore, so my instant love of Li’L Depressed Boy is a welcome slap to my face.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 9/10 (4.5 Art, 4.5 Story)