Book review: David Chelsea In Love

Chelsea_coverSeveral months ago, the Beverly Hills Public Library, a.k.a. the BHPL, a.k.a. The Greatest Library In All The Land, added a graphic novel section. This is perfect for people like me who are geeky enough to appreciate graphic novels but not geeky enough to frequent comix stores (and too cheap to buy any book over five bucks sight unseen via the internet).

The collection is pretty boy-heavy (as opposed to "pretty-boy heavy", next up: Eats, Shoots & Leaves) but there are a few items on the girlier end of the spectrum: Julie Doucet's My New York Diary, Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner's Our Cancer Year, Ghost World and suchlike. And that's what I like: story, story, story, the blacker, the better, but without all those silly superpowers and man-tights cluttering up the thing. To me, girly (read: auto/biographical) graphic novels combine the best of both childhood comix worlds, the human interaction of the Archie crowd in all its fascinating, Chekovian mundanity plus the firece filmic drawing of the Marvel house, minus the restraints of cartooning for kids.

David Chelsea gives gooooood autobiography; he's as dark and brooding and crazy as they come. He's also in possession of mad Rapidograph skills, which are rivalled only by his ability to employ them in pouring his messed-up life onto the page.

Chelsea2The story takes place mainly on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where Chelsea is (barely) eking out a living as an illustrator, and in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, where he travels (by bus!) in never-ending pursuit of the Girlfriend Action that eludes him in New York. Minnie, the central object of his affection, is a gawky philandering Portland actress; from the moment they meet cute at a party given by friends of Chelsea's sister, he's fairly obsessed by her. Of course, as one gigantic (literally) bundle of neuroses and bad judgment, she's the worst kind of person to get involved with. Narcissistic, solipsistic and completely unable to commit herself to one man or one city, Minnie keeps Chelsea teetering between the maddest kind of love and the worst kind of despair, much like Chelsea himself does with the women he treats as rest stops between bouts of Minnie.

Chelsea1Of course, the real love story in the book is the one between Chelsea and cartooning. At the end, in a sort of "where are they now" kind of summary, the now married-with-kids cartoonists admits to having given up la vida loca for the pleasures of true coupledom, which, as he says, he likes even better "even if it lacks the drama of a good graphic novel."

But the accompanying "photos" at the back of the book, really a series of photorealistic illustrations likely copied from real snaps, are as lovingly detailed as any manic sequence in David Chelsea in Love. He may not be the angst-ridden youth prowling the early-80s wilds of the East Village, but he's just as jiggy with the pen and ink as he ever was.

Let's hope he stays crazy-in-the-good-way for many, many years to come.


UPDATE (12/3/08): In a shameless and transparent act of caving, I've been replacing book and DVD links with Amazon affiliate links throughout the site. I MAKE MONEY WHEN YOU CLICK ON THESE. Like, a full 1/4 cent or something. Whatever. I'm happy if you borrow it from a friend or the library, or buy it used (I like and alibris online) or, praise Jeebus!, from your local independent dead tree retailer. Seriously. The main thing is, read. Absorb. Enjoy. Pass it on.