Thursday, April 14, 2016


That dog is the closest he's ever gotten to affection.

You might think that comics reached their apex of bleak nihilism in the Eighties and Nineties, an often-stark period of clenched teeth, blood-splattered capes and interminable navel-gazing -- but think again. The utter futility of human existence -- its dread anticipation, its unhappy self-delusion, the impossibility of even the simplest dignity -- was never captured with such harrowing detail as with the adventures of Dreamboy!

Created by Jerry Fasano for Eastern's line of teen comedy books (Club 16, specifically), Dreamboy was Jerry Judson, a high school student fairly described by his sneering peers as "fat and funny-looking" (They weren't kidding -- whatever was going on with his weight never explained why Jerry's arms hovered only inches from the floor and his legs had the precise proportions of honey-glazed hams). Unaccomplished, unloved and disregarded -- if not cruelly mocked by his classmates ("If you win the Junior Olympics" caws a long-legged cheerleader who looms over Jerry like a diseased palm tree, "I'll be your sweetheart for life!") Jerry has only one recourse from his unfortunate reality : Vivid hallucinations.

The multitude of defects which have made Jerry lazy, slow-witted, obese, stump-legged, ape-limbed, pug-nosed, unpopular, unloved, derided and despised have also made him the perfect host for meddling parasites. Particularly, these come in the form of Posh and Bosh, a pair of rhyming "gnomes" who live in, respectively, brain and heart. Cartoon gremlins with clown pants and noses like dicks, the primary responsibility of Posh and Bosh is to rescue Judson from any sort of devastating epiphany about his shortcomings.

The gnomes next door are fighting again, dear.

When Bosh receives one of Jerry's longings for impossible ambitions -- being loved, being respected, not having seniors put out cigarettes on his neck -- he hits a little black ball up Jerry nervous system to the brain, where it invariably slugs Posh on the back of the head. Either this next part takes place in Posh's comatose brain - Inception! - or is merely the next step in the process, the brain-gnome fires up his "Dream Machine" to create a vivid fantasy for Jerry. "The kid's a drip" says Posh "But the dreams I've got make Jerry feels he's lived a lot!"Is this a metaphor for a brain clot?

In any case, this triggers Jerry's transformation into Dreamboy, which manifests itself as his intensely realistic fantasies wherein he has heart, life, hope and potential. He fights the bad guys, he gets the girl, but low self-esteem wins out every time -- there's still always someone giving Jerry the business, even in his fantasies.

The end of every adventure involves Jerry awakening from his dream to humiliation and public derision. Since that's exactly how his adventures consistently begin, we cant even call that a zero-sum outcome. That's not even breaking even, that kid's just broken.

It's really worth keeping in mind that Jerry completely fantasizes his adventures -- this isn't one of those strips where he thinks he's a hero in his imagination and so he unconsciously performs heroic actions in real life ... everything happens in his head, and the audience is given clear line-of-sight to the embarrassing revelations of Jerry's most deep-seated fantasies and self-doubts, before it evaporates into greater vulnerability.

I have legitimately never seen a comic book story which seemed so predicated on misery and the inescapable nature of human shortcomings. Vertigo wishes it had published something this grim. Dreamboy's world is one of sneering hectors and bawling harpies, each of them an unkind mirror turned on a creature which even God himself would slap in the side of the mouth just for having the audacity to draw breath. Existentialism never had a better friend than Jerry Judson, Dreamboy, and Jerry Judson, Dreamboy, never had any friends except the gnomes who lived in his hollowed out organs...

The bizness! Even in his dreams!

1 comment:

Patrick Clark said...

So, from the look of it, this comic featured guest appearances by both Bob Hope and Wolverine!

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