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‘Snelson: Comedy Is Dying’ GN (review)

Written by Paul Constant
Art by Fred Harper
Published by AHOY! Comics

 

Like most folks, I struggle these days with whether or not I can still laugh at the once-hilarious humor of some people we now know to be pretty terrible. I tell myself that everyone has skeletons in their closet and if we knew them, we’d have serious trouble enjoying just about anything. If I take enough steps back, I can plainly see that a comedy routine I heard when I was nine, that so strongly influenced my own personal sense of humor, is still funny. It’s still genius, in fact, even if the person who wrote it turned out to be a monster. It’s an ongoing struggle.

Snelson: Comedy is Dying is about that struggle in some ways. The book holds up a satirical mirror to today’s cancel culture but also to today’s weirdly inconsistent pop culture in general, with emphasis on some of the more negative effects of the Internet.

Melville Snelson is an aging stand-up comic who had been big back in the ‘90s, commenting on society as he saw and understood it to huge applause all over the country. Now here he is in the third decade of the 21st century and he no longer understands it at all. The world has passed him by. All he wants to do is be funny but today’s America is an uncrackable puzzle to him. His agent dies, his old friend has turned to hate-comedy online, and it comes out that he once dated an underage girl. She was 17 when he was 25. In the interest of full disclosure, I once took a 17-year-old girl to the movies (a Fred Astaire picture) when I was 24. Didn’t seem that big a deal at the time. But it comes out for Snelson and his career takes the first of many rolling hits.

Snelson’s overall story is both depressing and uplifting. As opposed to its cover blurb by noted author David Sedaris, I don’t feel it makes that many hard-hitting satirical points at all. I did, however, find it to be a genuinely fascinating character study. Snelson—visually looking a bit like the late George Carlin with a different hairstyle—isn’t a monster, but neither is he an immensely likable person. He’s vexed and confused by not just his own life but life in general.

Our hero is, however, also the king of the comebacks. Every time something bad comes out or something new happens to knock him down a few pegs, he thinks it’s over and yet he always bounces back in some new way. He does a comedy tour, he does a podcast, he gets a book deal. He’s not a bad man at all, just a fairly obnoxious one who gets himself caught up in things out of his control. By the ending, though, at another high point, the reader realizes Snelson really is kind of a nice fella, just trying to keep up with the wacko changes that hit us so often these days. Imperfect, sure, but aren’t we all?

Paul Constant’s dialogue is excellent, really defining not just the main character but all of the unusual people in his life (and ALL of the people in his life are unusual). Artist Fred Harper (along with the important coloring of Lee Loughridge) rounds off the character with a unique look and feel that’s somehow immediately familiar. To me, Harper’s work is strongly reminiscent of the late Rich Corben’s great early underground work and that’s not a bad thing at all.

In the end, just as in real life, I struggled with my feelings toward Snelson: Comedy is Dying. On one level, I feel its creators were attempting something a bit more than this book actually achieves. On another, though, they’ve created a very rich, very real, very nuanced character and told his very human story in very modern show business terms.

Booksteve recommends.

 

 

 

 

 

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