Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

Review time! with ‘Parasocial’

“I’ve added Britney and Paris and Hugh and Tom; I’m going to find your address so I can visit you at home”

Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson (writer and artist, respectively) last worked together (I think?) on Dracula, Motherfucker!, and now they’re back with Parasocial, which, just like yesterday’s book, is a graphic novel from Image. It was weird yesterday, and it’s still weird now, and I still don’t know why!

I’ve never read Misery, but I can’t imagine it didn’t come up in the planning of this book, even though de Campi doesn’t mention it as an influence in the afterword. Misery wasn’t the first “fan goes nuts” story, of course, but it might be the most famous (unless that’s Play Misty For Me?), and it’s not a bad vein to mine. De Campi does it with her usual flair for horror, and the result is an entertaining comic.

You know the premise: actor gets abducted by unhinged fan and must fight their way out. Luke Indiana (de Campi points out it’s Skywalker and Jones, for reasons she gets into in the afterword) is a fading actor who shows up at conventions because it’s the only way he can make any money. Luke, it’s clear, is not a nice person. His marriage has collapsed, he seems to love his kids but he’s never there for them, and he thinks the fans who support him are a bit creepy (to be fair, some of them are). One fan, Lily, seems particularly obsessed, and after the con when he gets stranded on a lonely stretch of road, she shows up, drugs him, and takes him back to her house. So begins the cat-and-mouse game, but of course, we’re not sure who’s the cat and who’s the mouse.

This plays out pretty much as you’d expect, which is why this isn’t a better comic. Luke tries to charm Lily, which works with varying degrees of success, and just when she thinks she’s won him over, he tries to escape, and just when he think she’s vulnerable, she comes back at him with violence. I certainly won’t spoil it, but it ends in a fairly satisfying manner – not that everything gets wrapped up in a nice little bow, but that it’s satisfying. De Campi has always been pretty good with ambiguity, and she is here, which is nice. But while the plot isn’t superb, it still works, and it allows de Campi to get into the margins, which is where the book is at its best. De Campi writes the convention scenes with a world-weariness of someone who has experienced it first-hand, and the people in the early part of the book manage to be clichés of conventions without being completely unreal. The dude who expounds on the subtext of Luke Indiana’s crappy sci-fi show is very funny, because he’s both obnoxious and not wrong, which makes him even more obnoxious. Lily is fascinating, because she’s obviously obsessed, but she’s also not beyond the pale in terms of fandom. De Campi writes in the afterword about actors like Luke and fans like Lily, and she writes about ageism in the arts, and that comes out in Luke, who’s based his career on his looks and is finding them fading. It’s probably smart to use a man as the star, as using a woman would be too spot-on for de Campi’s thesis – we tend not to think of men “losing their looks,” and because of that, de Campi can introduce it fairly subtly, which makes Luke more of an interesting character. He’s not a nice guy, but he also doesn’t deserve to be abducted. Lily, meanwhile, is that kind of person that I could never understand, because I never got that wrapped up in celebrity culture, but I know her type of person exists, and de Campi does a nice job with her, too. As a character study, Parasocial is interesting even if its main plot is a bit too neat.

Henderson, meanwhile, does her usual excellent job on the art. This isn’t as baroque as Dracula, Motherfucker!, mainly because the subject matter is different (although I do like her work on the Dracula book more). However, this is still a beautiful book. The convention characters are perfect, from the big bald dude with the bushy beard to the girls with braids and cat ears to the obnoxious subtext dude with his pompadour, pierced tongue, and scraggly facial hair. As the action moves to Lily’s house, Henderson moves from a strong line that gradually degrades and becomes more abstract, as Luke begins to despair that he’s ever leaving alive and Lily begins to suspect that her perfect actor isn’t what she thinks he is. The lines become more ragged, the coloring becomes messier, and Luke, heavily drugged, has a glorious hallucination toward the end that Henderson nails. The art fits the tone of the book wonderfully, as Luke, who’s barely holding it together at the beginning of the book (which is hinted at through Henderson’s colors rather than the line work), becomes more and more unhinged and the art becomes looser and looser. Henderson knows what she’s doing, and the art helps with de Campi’s theme throughout the book.

This is certainly an enjoyable comic if not a brilliant one, but de Campi does a nice job distilling celebrity culture down and showing the horrors that lurk within it. These creators seem to work well together, so I’m looking forward to it if they do again!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

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