Comics on the Can – Suicide 5 Graphic Novel

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suicide5Where I poop while reading comics, then pass the enlightenment on to you (the comic part, not the poop part).

Yet another very special edition of Comics on the can: A full graphic novel review!

SUICIDE 5 – Written, colored and lettered – Jason Pell, ART – Ryan Howe

My teen angst bull #$@% has a body count

Or

“You’re no messiah! You’re a movie of the week… a t-shirt at best!”

Years ago, in that hazy, paranoid, contradictory years at the beginning of the twenty first century the monster clawing at our subconscious… seeping through in the form of movies, prose and (especially) comics was Zombies. Walking Dead being the best of the bunch, but also multiple variants from zombie superheroes to zombie pornstars ad infinitum… Why?

Agree or disagree but I think it’s fair to say that the ground swelling popular horror of the time is a reflection OF the times. Zombies were (or are still, arguably) a mutable stand in for our collective anxieties; the state of the world, our sense of control, fear of death…

So what does this have to do with Jason Pell’s new graphic novel Suicide 5? Zombie Highway was a previous series written by Pell, and in it he gleefully skewered just about every cliché that had been built up by the current trend of zombie comics. Zombie Highway’s skill was to take often trod ground and leave a different set of tracks. ZH had great engaging characters, crisp smart dialogue and a well-paced story. All of which makes familiar material rise above its tropes and trappings. I described ZH as Tarantino meets Romero.

Of course you have heard, read, seen, or otherwise been made aware of our obsession with social media or more to the point – those KID’S obsession. Much hand wringing has been done over the level of self-absorption demonstrated in teens and twenty some things (aka Millennial) on the interwebs. In truth, self- absorption has always been the case in that age group; this generation just has more platforms to express it. That, at first glance, is what Suicide 5 is about. A group of artsy, self-absorbed young folk turn a suicide pact into a competition. Whomever gets the best score WINS! Mason, the introverted sculptor is appointed the judge. He is tasked with scoring his friend’s suicides and passing on the whole exercise onto the rest of the world for inspiration and examination.

Suicide 5 comes across as a snarky indie satire about youth over saturated on social media and their own self-importance… been there, done that… And it is. But much in the same way Zombie Highway is about zombies; meaning it is a setting that allows Pell to dig deep into character and create a story that far exceeds what you’ve come to expect from a familiar scenario.

Bryce, the self-appointed leader of the group, wields his gift of gab, charisma, and bullying personality (and an occasional gun) to push the poisonous idea of suicide as performance art on the rest of the group. Bryce has convinced them all that they will achieve immortality by their acts of self-destruction. Eternal fame and canonization for turning death into art. A proposition too good to pass up to a bunch of self-professed artistic types given to grand gestures. Once Glenn gets the ball rolling by web-casting himself drinking hemlock at a toga party the bloody dye has been cast. What follows is each character caught in a fugue of one-upsmanship, anxiety, petty squabbles, things left unsaid, and desperation. All pushed by the sardonic cult of personality known as Bryce. The sole dissenting voice is Mason who isn’t even on deck to kill himself but he’s drowned out by Bryce’s bluster and his own disconnect.

The group dynamics are what really drives this story, the idea that a group of kids would kill themselves in a competition is, admittedly, a stretch. A high concept story like this usually requires you to suspend a hearty amount of disbelief (see the movie The Last Supper). The safest path to telling these kind of stories is arch cynicism or winking satire (see the movie Heathers). Suicide 5 has a dash of both but it doesn’t resort to clever tricks. Pell believably sells the story on its own merits and characters, no small achievement. A great example of Pell’s execution in storytelling and character… The character Susie O talks early in the book about how the universe is made up of thoughts and how one wrong thought could unravel everything. Each character’s response speaks volumes about themselves and their feelings about Susie. Tellingly Bryce dismisses her soliloquy saying “That didn’t make any sense”. Upon a second reading (not on the can, sorry) I was much more cognizant of the interplay between the characters, especially between Bryce and Mason. This is what makes a gripping story and not a snarkfest or a trite op-ed piece disguised as narrative.

The ultimate irony in the story is that for all their art pretense the one thing the characters seem unable to do is communicate with each other. Darwin can’t tell Susie O how he feels about her. Jordan steals ideas instead of getting his own. Bryce is too busy enjoying his power trip to care. Even Mason can’t say what needs to be said to stop the insanity. By the final confrontation with Bryce, Mason has realized the problem but it’s too little too late. Pell doesn’t let the characters off easy for their shortcomings; you shouldn’t consider yourself an artist if you can’t communicate your feelings. The only idea that is communicated is the poisoned meme of the medium; suicide. There is no message because there isn’t a shred of communication in all their acts, just vacuous statements. The final scene in the book brilliantly illustrates this; all the Suicide 5 merchandise that was a result of the characters “artistic” statement is being cleared to make way for whatever new fad coming in. At the same time there are IM/tweets/Facebook posts of people’s reactions with the last few being “we can do better”. This shows the group’s failure, the price of not communicating ideas is the clearance bin and marked down t-shirts, and also the success of the one poisoned idea, the bad thought that starts to unravel everything. In fact, the final scene raises Suicide 5 above a well done story to a level of fantastic story. It encapsulates all the ideas and consequences the story has been exploring.

So to circle back to the opening of this review – Suicide 5 is a horror story cleverly disguised as high concept satire; horror reflects our collective anxieties back at us. This time the monster poking its way through our subconscious is us and how we allow ourselves to be swayed by our own vanity and those smart enough to exploit it. The hand ringing about social media and its effects might be valid but the real problem, the one Jason Pell is pointing out through Suicide 5, is an old one; we just don’t talk to each other.

Find Suicide 5 at www.bughousecomics.com and www.facebook.com/suicidefive

Michael has a short story called “Car Commercials Have the Best Songs” available for kindle and a GN “Crazy Mary – by factory smoke and acetylene light” find it on Amazon three ,lines down from the 70’s Clint Eastwood movie Crazy Mary Dirty Larry.

Facebook: Logos728
twitter: @logos728, @crazymarycomic, @filmterms1
pinterest (yeah, pinterest, shutup!): Michael Colbert
email, comments, death threats: [email protected]

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