Life of the Party
by Mary Fleener (Fantagraphics Books)
Autobio is a word much tossed around in comics these days. Of course, it’s not even a word. Well, word or not, it sends lots of people running in fear of brutally intimate self-portraits of the more-than-we-needed-to-know variety.
Well, run not. Mary Fleener allows us to maintain a respectful distance from her colorful life. In fact, Life of the Party is as much about Fleener’s perceptions of other people as it is about Mary herself. Fleener seems to shrug off the weirdness of life like a coat in spring. It’s all a learning experience, something to look back at and laugh.
Fleener’s attitude toward drug and drink is refreshing. The book begins at a time in her life that included more parties, more unmarked pills… just part of her life. If things ever got too weird, she would just be more moderate next time. Maybe. We witness her friends doing incredibly fucked up things on drugs but still, there is no preaching, pro or con. By the end of the book, Mary seems to have cleaned up quite a bit, yet doesn’t look back on her life with judgmental eyes. She just learns her lessons and moves on.
Fleener’s work says “Welcome! I am kinetic, I am alive, I am a real person.” Just like a real live life of the party, this book is intriguing, engaging, and funny. I’ve read most of these stories several times before and I notice new depth with every reading. In fact, the first time I barely noticed the stories and just looked at the pretty pictures.
Mary Fleener’s crisp style has a consistent underlying simplicity. Some of her pages and panels are crammed full of lines, shapes, faces, images of motion, and beautiful black ink but they never appear cluttered. She maintains balance and harmony (symphony?) on even her most image-crowded page.
Reading this book is like laughing or crying with a friend over crazy old times. It’s thoughtful and fun. There is much that I find familiar and real. Life of the Party is worth your time and money. Whether or not you think you like “autobio,” it’s just good comics.