52 Pick-Up Week 52:
I have something of a confession to make. For this, my final week of 52 Pick-Up, I stacked the deck. I had to go out on a high note. Or, at least, a memorable one. I read a handful of books, but found none of them sufficiently compelling for my final entry. The new Vampirella book from Dynamite is fun, sure. For any other week it would have been fine. Who Is Jake Ellis? was a pretty interesting read, but My?tery Society and 5 Days to Die already gave me my quota of weird mysteries and mistaken identity and whatever else Ellis is trying to do (he’s totally a ghost, by the way… I think). No… week fifty-two had to be special. Unique.
And then I saw the title “Motel Art Improvement Service” and knew I’d found my final subject.
Unbeknownst to me going into it, this was based on the character Bee, created by Jason Little as the star of a strip being made available to “alternative newsweeklies” entitled Shutterbug Follies. Bee’s adventures had also, I guess, made it to webcomic form with Motel Art Improvement Service, of which this was a collected trade. At least… that’s what I gather. It’s not entirely clear. The first 10 pages of MAIS can be found on Little’s site, but I’m not quite sure when or where the other installments were made available. All academic anyhow, as they’re now here in trade from the good folks at Dark Horse. Huzzah!
So… what the hell is this all about?
Obviously, it’s about Bee, a fairly typical teenage girl setting out on a cross country bike trek that does not go anywhere near as expected. What happens to her? Her bike gets totaled and she meets an art type with a very peculiar dialect and even more peculiar tendencies. To say anything more than that would be too close to spoiling what is a fairly unique and extremely enjoyable ride. What I can point out is that aside from the awkward patterns of speech brought to the table by costar Cyrus, the book is an amazingly well-written study in both plot and scripting. Little creates separate simultaneous plot threads that eventually weave together, but whose initial disparate natures serve to draw you in expertly. Even as I tried to consciously resist, I couldn’t help but wonder how all of the pieces were going to fit together. Intending at first only to glance through the first chapter (and finding there WERE no chapter breaks) I soon found myself finishing the entire 200+ page book in one sitting. I hadn’t even realized it was happening until I was almost done. That is good writing.
The story itself is sexually charged and laden with both drug use and profanity, so I warn anyone with delicate sensibilities to tread lightly here. For the rest of you, combine the story’s content with the way the plot is laid out and you’ll no doubt see parallels to movies such as Go and Big Trouble. In fact, that brings me to another point… the entire time I was reading the book, I couldn’t help imagining it as a film: Bee would inevitably be played by a too-thin-and-pretty-for-the-role actress, I suspect, but if Jason Little wasn’t picturing Neil Patrick Harris when he drew Cyrus, I’d be shocked.
Speaking of the art – it makes the book. This is comic strip/webcomic art – we’re not talking about Image-founding fathers stuff. But that’s fine, we shouldn’t be. Jason Little’s style is fun, cute, and quirky; simple, yet with a fantastic attention to detail. It would fit perfectly in a Mad Magazine (are they even still in print) but more importantly it fits perfectly here. His characters are all immediately identifiable, his faces impressively expressive, his page layouts provide an excellent narrative flow, and the titular improved motel art is, while really little more than a MacGuffin, a joy to behold!
A year ago, I’d never even have known a book like this existed. Today?
Motel Art Improvement Service gets 5 out of 5 unshaven armpits
So its done. It’s over. I found my final muse. But what does it all mean? What have these past fifty two weeks taught me, if anything? Where do I go from here? And what will you read, now that I’m done? Well, check back in the coming week as I’ll be posting my 52 Pick-Up: Year in Review. I’ll let you know what I’m still reading and what I’ve taken away from my journey. Also, be sure to check out Guzman 2011′s All New, All Different 52 Pick-Up as he takes on a new movie each week, because Knize doesn’t have fifty-two comics for him to read in the bathroom. And of course, always keep tuning in to Panels on Pages, because you never know what we’re going to be cooking up next.
See you in the longboxes!