I’ve noticed lately that I barely have any time to spare for my leisure stuff. Sure, I read (although a bit slowly of late), and I get to listen to a lot more radio or books on CD during my commute than I previously had, but keeping up on TV watching is getting to be a chore, and my internet reading has fallen way off. But nothing has gone so badly as the webcomics. I’m down from about 20 per day on average to none in nearly three weeks, basically since the new job started. I’ll need to catch up soon, too, lest I have no idea where I was on any of them. (Well, okay, I know the date, but it still seems like a good idea.)
Among my handful of favorites is Brian Clevinger’s 8-Bit Theater, which on top of being reliably funny is what inspired me to finally play Final Fantasy all the way through. He spent a lot of months dropping hints about and then eventually published a book, separate from his webcomic presence but purportedly with the same humor. But it was out of a minor press, so I shrugged, Atlas-like, and moved on with my life. Until one fateful day at the used bookstore, when I spotted it on the shelf. For, admittedly, a ridiculous amount of money, since it was half-price off a truly ludicrous $42.95. But, y’know, I was probably never going to see it cheaper, or ever again for that matter, so I struck, snakelike.
No, that’s stupid. I mean, even if snakes picked things up by striking at them, how would it get out of the store? It can’t very well shoplift a book, what with the lack of backpacks or baggy shirts, neither could it pay, what with the lack of pockets. Hell, it takes pretty much all of their ingenuity to get all the way down the jetway and onto the motherfucking plane.
I guess my point here is, I got the book.
First of all, I have a complaint. The editing is atrocious. I mean, there are random grammatical oddities that I could get past, and there are places where what should be an s is randomly an a instead, like the spellchecker was never engaged or something. I could get past those too. I could even get past the homonym misspellings, probably. There are two things I cannot get past though. One is the various tics and things related to invented technology, regional dialect spelling to imply accent, etc. You can’t really play with that stuff in a book where the reader can’t trust the editing to be done correctly, because the reader is left to guess which things are on purpose and which aren’t. But most egregious of all, on a semi-regular basis, past tense verbs are presented as present tense. ‘The rocket blast off into the sky’ instead of ‘…blasted off…’ Is that some kind of local to Florida thing that I’ve never heard of, or would it drive everyone as crazy as it drove me?
Despite all that, I was able to get into the story. Nuklear Age is a prose version of comics about the adventures of Nuklear Man and Atomik Lad and their friends and nemeses. Influences from Batman to the Tick are obvious every time you turn a page, not to mention randomly inserted parodies of all kinds of modern fantasy and science fiction completely unrelated to comics. The humor is hit or miss, but more than enough hit to keep me laughing. Some of the characters are cardboard, though I think I’ve established that doesn’t bother me. A few are layered and nuanced, and they were enough to let me latch onto it, have someone to root for, and generally enjoy the ride. Except…
Old Usenet lore has it that the mark of doom for a book is when you utter the seven deadly words, “I no longer care about these characters.” At that point, the book is no longer for you, and you should stop reading it forthwith. It’s probably fair to say that I’m not good at following that adage, or at least that I’m not good about recognizing in myself when I stop caring, or when I should. Be that as it may, it’s not the issue here. Rather, I’ve found something that might be deadlier to one’s enjoyment of a book even than that.
What happens when you find out that the author no longer cares about these characters? Or worse, never did? It’s possible to care negatively about characters, or to care and still allow bad things to happen to them, sure. But to simply not care at all, and just use them as a means to an end that has little or no relation to their circumstances, to their depth as characters? Maybe I’m naive, and most authors don’t care about anything beyond making some kind of point, and the people they use to get there are just pawns invented in their mind to be tossed away or raised to queens at will. If so, at least most of them hide that from me. I’ll keep reading the comic, and I’d probably read another book he put out, if I could find it for cheaper than this, at least. There’s some skill there, even if it’s unpolished at the moment. But I’ll certainly not do it without someone else assuring me that the end goal is a bit less puerile this time.
Because the last 100 or so pages of this book? Imagine being kicked in the crotch repeatedly, but you know you can get through it because of how good it will feel when you’re no longer getting kicked in the crotch, and that thought alone, as simple as it is, is enough. But then, if it turns out you never do stop getting kicked in the crotch? It’s kind of like that.
 One Fateful Day at the Bookstore would probably make a good title for my biography.