Life with Mr. Dangerous
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Amy is adrift. She just turned 26, lives in a nondescript apartment in a nondescript neighborhood working a nondescript retail job at the mall.
The only defining force in her life is a surreal animated TV show. But maybe that’s all she really needs.
Paul Hornschemeier‘s graphic novel Life with Mr. Dangerous (Villard/Random House, 2011) takes its title from Amy’s favorite show, but also reflects Amy’s state of mind. No, the men in her life are generally also fairly nondescript (there’s a pattern here), but she desires trouble, excitement. She’s wanting to take a chance but doesn’t quite know how.
And certainly, this probably does sound like your typical comic about sad twentysomethings, but Hornschemeier’s unblinkingly thoughtfulness makes it painfully easy to relate to.
Amy isn’t always likeable. She frequently comes across as self-centered, even in her insecurity. While she’s clearly been in some relationships with some callous men, her inability to connect makes it clear why there’s a reason she spends most of her time watching TV and talking to her cat. At the same time, her loneliness makes her sympathetic. Amy may have gotten herself into these situations, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve to get out of them.
This book would not be nearly as affecting without Hornschemeier’s art. He has a sharp, crisp eye and conveys Amy’s isolation through empty space and tightly framed panels. Even outdoor scenes are closed off by buildings. Much of the book is just Amy by herself, and the subtle changes in her expression as she wordless shifts through emotions is masterful. I also loved the mood that the earthy color palette gave this book. It’s neither vibrant nor drab but just muted, much like Amy’s life itself. It does becomes quietly brighter toward the end as Amy decides to make changes in her life.
Granted, Hornschemeier isn’t necessarily covering new ground with Life with Mr. Dangerous, but I don’t think he needed to. It’s ultimately a heartfelt story about understanding the world through more than a limited perspective and seeing people for who they are. I’m fine with having a few more of those.
(Portions of this graphic novel appeared in Fantagraphics‘ anthology series Mome so you may have read some of it there.)
As a side note, I would like to thank Hornschemeier and Big Planet in Bethesda for the signing last Monday. I’m just sorry than only four people (well, maybe five) showed up. I hope his signing at City Lights in San Francisco tomorrow has a ton of people.