Whilst the transition from lyricist to writer may not be a huge leap across the artistic spectrum, it is a further-reaching gap when you are the lead singer of a band and then you create a comic. Max Bemis is the man that leaps this cultural divide and has produced a book, emergent from the cultural underground of the Brooklyn suburbs. I can only imagine his protagonist Tim, represents himself, as both author and lead character have suffered bipolar disorder. I do not actually think there is a classic mental illness trope in the comic world, that is actually based on real experiences with clinical observations. There have been superhero characters with mental illnesses but rarely is it of a first person perspective. This is where Bemis, through Tim becomes representative of the disaffected mentally ill in modern society. He is an intriguing character as his internal monologue is flat and monotone, it is a little cynical for a medically numbed individual but imagine that guy narrating this book. The conversation pieces are fine as Tim interacts with classical cliche friends but his tone is reserved and reflective. His outward persona is incredibly muted and uninteresting but before long you realise his misanthropic monologue is the stimulus that keeps you reading.
The book certainly pertains to bipolar disorder as a theme, with the descriptive texts focusing on what life is like now compared to his manic phases. Tim is unsure which life he prefers and is continually reflecting on this. On the one hand his creativity as an artist excelled with all the accompanying plaudits, but on the other he led an untenable and unsafe lifestyle, as demonstrated by his horrific accident at the beginning of this book. As we follow Tim through the banal conversations, he is led to breaking point, where he decides to abandon his medications. The catalyst for this is a socially awkward conversation with a potential romantic interest. He stumbles his way through but still manages to set up a dating scenario the following week. Though he remonstrates the tribulations of bipolar disorder, it is his anxieties in talking to a girl that prompt the cessation of treatment. This appears to be incongruous with his initial monologue as he does not excessively long for his old lifestyle, and in fact he cannot even remember painting some of his artwork. My inexperience with mental disorders makes this topic difficult to comment upon, but I am happy to proceed with the benefit of the doubt. Especially when there is a noticeable change in the thought boxes that appear more sparingly, once he has entered his manic stage. The final page twists cast doubt on Tim’s mental illness altogether, which is a little frustrating given the immense amount of background work. I wonder how this book will approach the conspiracy element of Tim’s bipolar disorder.
I picked this book up because I flicked through the pages and came across this page. It is phenomenally presented by Coelho as he brilliantly portrays every character in their uniqueness. Despite the all too deliberate hipster bashing (which I do not subscribe to), it is their quest for individuality that allows such colourful and decorated individuals. The scene depicts an independent art house viewing of Tim’s work and reeks of pretentiousness. Coelho utilises a zooming in affect to accentuate the conversation scenes, which works relatively well given that Tim is so apathetic. During the manic phase of the book, there is a superb splash page of Tim’s breakdown as the panels swirl about as passionately as our protagonist’s jig. In fact there is almost no need for though boxes here as the backdrop of photos, scrap paper and paintings swirling, reflecting the development of mania. Felipe Sobreiro colours vibrantly and provides stark contrast of the hipster-supporting cast to the initially docile main character. The book is wonderfully drawn and we are ready to be taken further into the depths of Tim’s mind. I hope that the personal and insightful preparations are not lost in a conspiracy dominated plotline, but either way the art will continue to impress.
“Tim, look at you. You are standing like a young John Malkovich”