By Joe Matt
Jim Valentino’s autobiographical A Touch Of Silver might be the worst comic I’ve ever read. Jim tried very hard and his heart is certainly in the right place, but it’s such a cloying, boring stretch of clichés and dull cartoon choices. Entire scenes are reduced to sickly sentimentality, while many others revolve around the whole problem that nobody understands poor little Jimmy because he’s so gosh-darned sensitive.
At first glance, Joe Matt’s Fair Weather a collection of comics about his own boyhood days originally serialized in Peepshow and published in 2002 looks a lot like A Touch Of Silver, with both stories featuring the young creator barreling around on his bike, obsessed with comics.
They even share the ubiquitous moment when Mom throws out their comics, worried that their precious child is getting a little too obsessed.
But Fair Weather manages to be vastly more entertaining, because Matt doesn’t even try to hide the fact that as a youngster, he was a complete and utter little shit.
Matt, or the version he presents of himself in comics anyway, has often come across as pretty unlikeable. The world already knows far more than it needs to about Joe’s wanking habits and his moaning about the inability to finish a comic can get tedious (even if it’s somewhat undercut by the fact he’s actually produced the comic in which he’s moaning about it.)
But his younger self is a right little arsehole, monumentally selfish and almost completely incapable of learning from his mistakes. When he finds the comics his Mom claimed to have thrown out, there is no lesson to be learned, young Joe just spitefully hollers his victory and threatens of dire consequences if anybody dares touch his comics again.
While it ends on an upbeat (and slightly confusing) note, Joe displays an irritating smugness throughout the book, unwilling to help unless there is something in it for him, proud of the fact he has ripped off former friends and unable to see why it’s wrong if they don’t know about it.
Geeks and comic geeks in particular- can be horrible little specimens sometimes, and that obnoxiousness can be at its worst in those early teenage years. It’s easy to forget what utter pricks we can be at that age, especially when it comes to our little hobbies. It’s just as easy to think of ourselves as soulful, sensitive outsiders, just like Jim Valentino, but chances are, we were just oblivious to how ridiculous we were.
I know I was a total bloody idiot at that age and it took me a lot longer than it should have to work out what I was doing wrong. That might be one of the most appealing aspects of Fair Weather – Matt acknowledges what a dick he was and dedicates the book to his mother, who “did her best”.
Matt might have spent a lot of his adult life creating a porn collection of unparalleled accuracy, but he’s recognized his own failings. They were there when he was younger and are presented front and centre in Fair Weather. But he’s grown up and moved on, just like we all need to. Finding new failings, but at least we've stopped crying about the stupid stuff.
The pleasant appeal of the book also owes a lot to Matt’s cartooning style. While his subject matter can often be filled with far more information than anybody would ever need, his art has also had a smooth, clean style that invites the reader into the sordid World of Matt. Like all of his comics, Fair Weather is incredibly readable, no matter how uncomfortably familiar it gets.