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Jay's Days: Rise and Fall of the Pasta Shop Lothario
Written and pencilled by Jason Marcy
Inked by Joe Meyer and Jeremy Kaposy
Published by Landwaster Books; $10.99 USD

Jason Marcy's daily diary strip is one of my regular stops on the comics internet; in brief, daily doses, Jay more often than not comes off as cripplingly neurotic, paralyzed by his worries over fatherhood, dental problems, and his tendency to run off at the mouth at inconvenient times.

In a longer narrative, like Jay's Days: Rise and Fall of the Pasta Shop Lothario, Marcy can't hide his more likeable, human side, though -- and even though he's plenty neurotic and even a bit of an ass at times in this third Jay's Days volume, the overall effect is rewarding and quite a fun read. In the interests of full disclousure, as they say, I should note for newcomers that Jason wrote for Comic Book Galaxy a few years ago, and I consider him one of my "online pals," although we've never met. I even make a brief cameo as "Alan," Jay's instant messenger distraction from taking care of his pregnant wife in one brief, vomit-soaked sequence.

A number of short stories here put Jay's worst instincts in sharp focus: Here he is staring at his teenage co-worker's thong. Here he is relishing a quick glimpse of her bra, then stupidly announcing it to her. Jay's biggest problem is not the normal worries and fleeting bouts of unwise lust he suffers through, but rather his uncontrolled need to share every emotion and impulse with anyone in earshot, as soon as it happens. You can see where this would be a difficulty for your personal life. On the bright side, it makes for mostly amusing reading, although I honestly marvel that the cartoonist is so open with his thoughts and feelings. I don't know if he's brave, stupid, or both, but damn if it doesn't make for compelling autobiographical comics, combining the base instincts of Joe Matt with the romantic charm of Tom Beland.

At the center of this graphic novel is the long, complex saga called "The Big 'Un," the story of how Jay and Kris Marcy went through pregnancy together and welcomed their son Xander ("I can't believe you're naming him after someone in 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer!'") into the world. Pregnancy and childbirth would seem a hackneyed subject for discussion, except that it is, of course, one of the most harrowing and complex life experiences we can go through. Jay recreates the entire process with astounding verisimilitude, marking "The Big 'Un" as absolutely his finest story to date.

From the jittery terror of waiting for the pregnancy test to give up its results, to choosing names and dealing with the weird reactions of family members and everything in-between, Jay perfectly captures the long, freakshow road to parenthood. It's a marvelous story that surprised me with the depth of its genuine feeling and even choked me up a time or two. The story's even more effective for being set during the real-life SARS crisis in Canada, which had a pretty serious impact on the events of "The Big 'Un."

There's an extremely satisfying narrative arc that runs throughout the book; even though it's a collection of short stories anchored by one (excellent) longer one, they all fit together to tell of a transformative time in the cartoonist's life. The end result is a truly engaging and entertaining bit of autobiography informed by that most crucial of storytelling elements, genuine life experience.

I have to note that the art is weak in spots, and definitely needs to be cleaned up some in many spots (it looks like unerased pencil lines that are making the lettering hard to read in a few panels -- and there's a fairly blatant typo on the spine, to boot), but the writing is the key reason to read Jason Marcy's work. He's come a long way since the first Jay's Days graphic novel, and his storytelling skills have only improved in that time. Rise and Fall of the Pasta Shop Lothario is the best thing he's done so far, and the wonderful work he does here depicting his and Kris's experience with pregnancy and childbirth make this a must-read for fans of autiobiographical comics, or anyone who wants to know a little bit of truth about what it's like to bring a child into the world. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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