M@B: Wide Collar Crimes Matthew Blackett (197 Pages, Matt B Publishing, $20, 2003)
Picture yourself sitting on a bench in Toronto’s Kensington Market, watching black and white cartoon faces go by. Outside of the daily comings and goings, a few modestly interesting things happen: someone walks by predicting the end of the world, a stranger stops to comment on your appearance, or a passer-by says something really obnoxious to a friend. These are little snapshots that are entirely forgettable, but often funny and slightly absurd.
Matt Blackett’s semi-autobiographical comic strip, M@B, is a collection of all of those interesting anecdotes, and they give some sense of what it’s like being an urban male who lives with his eyes open. The comics are generally not punch line, gut-laugh humour, but instead paint a portrait of life in a city where interesting and funny things happen every instant—if we stop to notice them. Wide Collar Crimes is a collection of eight shorter Matt B comics, written between 2000 and 2002.
Blackett sees life for what it is, usually outside of any context other than that of a passive observer or detached participant, who looks with slight fascination, bewilderment, or amusement at the world of his apartment, neighbours, friends, co-workers, and strangers. He’s trying to communicate absolutely nothing other than the events that take place within his existence: random strangers swearing at him out of their car windows, or he’s eyeing girls with the elderly Portuguese neighbour, or the couple upstairs that has really noisy sex.
In three-comic panels, Blackett uses simple but appealing illustration to build to what isn’t a punch line. It is, rather, a mesh of image and words that expresses the situation as it is in its implicit comedy and absurdity, instead of in the scripted humour of contrived sitcom plots. The accompanying illustrations are inviting and soft on the eyes, with Blackett sacrificing realism and detail for more simple but essentialized sketches.
Part of Matt B.’s genius is that there is no processing required for the humour. Nor is there a received context for the humour, like the political commentary found in Welshmertz or Get Your War On comics. There is none of the biting cynicism inspired by irony that is so popular among current comedy. These are no more nor less than slightly bizarre but realistic snapshots of a day in the life of a guy in Toronto.
In particular, Blackett has a fascination with characters he sees in the street.
“Today I saw a man on a motorized wheelchair being chased by a kid.
When the kid caught up to the man, he poured a glass of water all over him.
But the man didn’t seem to mind.”
Occasionally, we are treated to Matt B.’s ruminations, hopes, and fears, which engender a mild empathy with the character. We see him grow over the course of the book, although the narrator never becomes the centre of the action. The humour and incongruity of each situation is always paramount. Still, M@B becomes something like a chum, and one that is missed when the book is finished—one that you won’t mind revisiting.
December 10, 2003, 537 words