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Fair Weather
By Joe Matt
Published by Drawn and Quarterly

Taken as a single graphic novel, out of the original context it appeared in, Joe Matt's Fair Weather is an uncharacteristically idyllic look at his childhood. We see the innocence of his youth begin to give way to more adult concerns that haunt his art, and we see the seeds of the cheap, competitive and scheming tightwad that Matt depicts himself as having grown into as an adult.

Fair Weather was originally serialized in Matt's brilliant Peepshow comic book, and it stands out as very, very different from either the serial that preceeded it, or the current storyline. The cover really tells you a lot about the tone of the graphic novel, two young friends working obliviously together as their youth begins to fade into the sunset behind them. In a way, the story is a frank and unapologetic love letter from Matt to the friendship he shared with his childhood friend Dave, and there's even an actual photograph of the two of them at the end of the book that confirms both the story's details and its truths.

Matt paints his adult self as being a pretty repulsive person -- obsessed with pornography to the point of eschewing human interaction, pissing in jars so he doesn't have to leave his room -- and we can easily see how young Joe here will turn into that person. He screws his friends out of their valuable comics, because he's the only one with an Overstreet Price Guide. He encourages Dave to shoplift comics from the neighbourhood convenience store because he's too cheap to pay for them. But there's still some decency in young Joe, as we see in the story's conclusion. Essentially it's a convincing portrait of the life of a young American boy, and a lot of it rings true.

Matt mines some humour from the verisimilitude, as when his mother hides his comics (claiming to have thrown them out) because he wouldn't mow the lawn, and Joe eventually finds them then threatens to burn down the house if his mom ever does that again. But there's also that hint of selfish megalomania in Joe's actions and motivations, that perfectly resonates with the adult persona he's presented in other stories.

Matt's cartooning here is sublime, a perfect evocation of the era and milieu Matt presents -- and clearly showing an influence from his friend and fellow cartoonist Seth. The book itself is compact, beautifully produced and a pleasure to read. Drawn and Quarterly produces some of the finest graphic novels qua art objects in the industry. If you've seen Seth's hardcover It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken, you'll have some idea of the extraordinary care put into the design and construction of this edition.

Joe Matt is one of the most compelling and gifted cartoonists working the upper reaches of the arts comics scene over the past decade, and Fair Weather shows you an unexpectedly nostalgic yet genuine and credible view of the past from what seems like an honest and straightforward observer. As autobiographical comics go, the focus is a bit unusual but entirely welcome. They don't get a whole lot better than this. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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