Book of the Month
What did the
There are many stories out there, in all sorts of media, that try to capture the feeling of something intangible, like a time or a place, or a scene, or an era. What was it like to be at Woodstock? What was it like to be in San Francisco in 1967, the summer of love? What was it like to be in Washington DC on April 15, 1865, the day after Lincoln was shot? What would it feel like to be standing backstage at the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 as the Beatles played that famous performance? Finally, you might be asking yourself, what was it like to be part of the emerging punk and new wave music scene in Akron, Ohio in 1979?
Or perhaps you didn't ask that question, but it turns out that Punk Rock and Trailer Parks by the mononymous comic writer and artist derf, whom you might remember from his syndicated work, The City, or My Friend Dahmer. He might be referred to as an underground artist, and draws in a style many will use to instantly judge the material. I'd be the first to tell you that it's not my favorite style, but in this case, it just works. It works because derf has something to say, and a story to tell, and a cast of characters around whom I want to spend time.
We should probably start by introducing you to The Baron. The Baron was the kid who got picked on, and picked on hard. He's resplendently nerdy, frequently quoting long passages from Lord of the Rings when talking to others, and possessing a large book and video collection. At a certain point in high school, he shot up in height to well over 6 feet, and stopped referring to his given name of Otto, instead creating the reality of The Baron. The Baron drives a ridiculous Mercury. The Baron plays trombone. The Baron is assembling a tape of his every fart from senior year. The Baron refuses to believe he's not the coolest guy in the room. He keeps it up long enough, and eventually it starts to become true. He starts hanging out, and eventually working at the Bank, an underground punk and new wave venue in nearby Akron. While he's there, he meets and befriends giants of the scene. He takes the Ramones out for great burgers. He takes Joe Strummer and Lester Bangs to slash the tires of Journey's tour bus. He joins a great band. He becomes cool, despite all odds, but mostly because he wills it. He learns what is really most important in this world. The Baron is a great example of someone saying and living the idea that what they are, and who they are is worthy and laudable, and screw what everyone else says.
The Baron's ethos is exactly what punk rock really is. There are so many movies, TV shows, books, songs, and even comics that try to capture the essence of what something is, and when I got to the end of Punk Rock and Trailer Parks, I realized that derf had done just that, perhaps better than anything I'd ever read. There was a time when punk rock really was on the outside, and while it makes perfect sense that it would be subsumed into popular culture, it used to be a way for people to really find something that spoke only to them and a small group of people. In that culture, you decided what was cool, and for just a small moment in time, it was something special, where not many people knew who Joe Strummer was yet, but the people who did knew they had something special. The scene was small enough that you could get to know those people just by hanging around, before the world would claim many of them as wider legends and geniuses. It's really not all that different from comics when you think about it. Sure we've got our own heroes, but the world doesn't know about them yet, and right now, they're ours and ours alone, until Hollywood arrives with their inevitable knock, leaving the small world of comic books behind. We're already seeing it with Mike Mignola and Frank Millar. At one time, they were just for us, and while we knew they were something special, no one else did yet. Of course, that's not the case any longer. So it was with punk rock scene in 1979. It was a beautiful thing growing out of much that wasn't beautiful, and derf has nailed it, making me wish I had been there, at the same time proving that it was wonderful because most people weren't.
Of course, nostalgia is nearly useless without something to ground it, and to help relate it to those of us who weren't around at the time. The story here is your standard coming of age tale, as we go through The Baron's senior year of high school. But in this year, as opposed to the ones that came before, life is what he makes it. I suppose the closest thing I can compare this to is Freaks and Geeks in that when I finished with either, I walked away with the feeling that the artists had "gotten it," and I was not alone in my experiences. However, it isn't quite as simple as that. Punk Rock and Trailer Parks shows you what life could be like if you just said "fuck it" and decided right then and there to live your life on your own terms, changing what you can, and embracing what you can't. Do you have a crazy drunken uncle who drives around on a lawn mower? There's no need to be embarrassed of it. You live in a trailer park? So what? It doesn't change who you are. Do you want to tell that guy or girl you like her? Just do it, and if they're not into it, at least you tried. The regret is worse than the rejection. If you've ever made that decision, or you're at the point where you haven't yet, this might be just the story for you.
A lot of mainstream comic book fans might look at derf's art and decide it isn't for them. The characters are a bit strange looking, with exaggerated anatomy, and odd stances. But when reading this story, I was totally into it, and the art is a major part of that. Too much emphasis can be put on the literal value of art, in how perfect it is, and not what it's actually communicating. The art in this book, while not at all photorealistic interprets what life often really looks like. It's got pimples and hairy legs, and most people aren't shaped perfectly. Most of real life is stained and maybe a little bit greasy. So when I'm reading a story about what real life can feel like, I learned to appreciate an art style that doesn't dress things up more than they need to be. The art tells the story, and does it perfectly, and you can't ask more of a comic book artist.
When all is said and done, we all know what it's like to have been in high school, regardless of the year. Even the most popular and accepted among us likely felt ostracized in some way, and regardless of whether you were into punk music or hip hop or country, the universality of those experiences are captured in this book, and captured well. If it happens that you're a fan of this time in music, then the book is twice as good. If you've ever wondered what punk rock was really about, forget the soundbites on VH1 and read Punk Rock and Trailer Parks.
Check out Punk Rock and Trailer Parks at Amazon.