With so many big names and big events plastered across the shelves of your LCS, sometimes great comics get left behind – buried in longboxes until someone comes along to find these Hidden Gems.
Written by J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Glenn Barr
Published by DC / Paradox Press
Veteran comics scribe J.M. DeMatteis is probably best known for killing Kraven the Hunter and helping to bring laughs to the Justice League, but a closer look at his prolific writing career shows that he excelled in a number of genres within the comics medium. One of his least-known but arguably best pieces of writing is Brooklyn Dreams, a semi-autobiographical four-part tale that was originally published by DC’s digest-sized Paradox Press imprint, which later collected all four issues into a trade paperback. Featuring spectacular artwork from Glenn Barr, Brooklyn Dreamsoffers a uniquely frank and philosophical approach to the typical coming of age story.
The central protagonist of Brooklyn Dreams is a middle-aged man named Vincent Carl Santini, who serves as the narrator. The entire volume is an extended flashback to several events that occurred during Vincent’s formative years in Brooklyn during the early Seventies, with most of the action taking place during his senior year of high school. Vincent reminisces about many profound moments such as his first love, his discovery of literature and writing as a means of escape and expression, a particularly unpleasant drug experiences, and his first and only arrest. Peppered throughout the volume are several smaller anecdotes involving such moments as the time he adopted a stray dog and the hilariously memorable funeral of his late uncle. These stories don’t really gel into one central plot, but each one is highly entertaining. Barr’s art swerves from realistic to outlandishly cartoonish from one panel to another, which perfectly encapsulates the hectic and extremely hormonal experiences of a teenage boy growing up in a vibrant and culturally diverse area.
Many of the stories and anecdotes chronicled in Brooklyn Dreams are played for laughs, but most of them also have a small undercurrent of sadness. The adult Vincent frequently laughs at how dramatic and self-absorbed he was at seventeen, but he also reveals a deep sense of admiration and nostalgia for his younger self. His parents are described as dysfunctional, superstitious kooks for the majority of the book, and yet he still shows love and understanding for them, even when his father tries to convince Vincent at age nine that he’s not his real son. The teenaged Vincent spends a lot of his time in the book chasing girls and taking a number of controlled substances, like most kids of that era did, but he also expresses a deep desire to find the ultimate truth in life, which he finds endlessly reclusive and unobtainable.
DeMatteis has admitted that much of Brooklyn Dreams is based on his own experiences, and he calls it his most personal work to date. It is without a doubt one of the best comic stories I’ve read in any genre. The story is bittersweet and brutally honest, with hardly any sense of schmaltzy nostalgia that taint many other coming of age stories set in a particular era. The art, as mentioned before, is brazenly expressionistic and exaggerated at some points and dark and subdued at other points, which beautifully matches the ebb and flow of the story. Brooklyn Dreams belongs on the shortlist of great personal comic stories that includes such classics as Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Harvey Pekar’s Our Cancer Year, Marjene Satrapi’s Persepolis, and Will Eisner’s A Contract With God. Like all those other books, DeMatteis takes memories of his life and makes a beautiful and inspiring work of art, with the help of an immensely talented artist. Brooklyn Dreams gets 5 out of 5 Canine Guardian Angels.