guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

April/May 2009

I Saw You... : Comics Inspired By Real-Life Missed Connections
, edited by Julia Wertz (Three Rivers Press, 2009). $12.95, paperback.

By Jared Gardner

That we here at
guttergeek are endlessly devoted to all things Julia Wertz would come as no surprise to our long-time readers, in the event we had any. But when I first heard from her that she was working on this project, I must confess, I was dubious. It sounded at once too cutesy and too high-concept for the author of Fart Party. As is so often the case, however, my gut instinct was totally and completely wrong (in the interests of full disclosure it must be said that in the Spring of 2007 I confidently prophesied the imminent failure of the soon-to-be-released iPhone). In I Saw You..., Wertz brings together scores of well-known and relatively unknown cartoonists to work with a shared constraint: writing a short comic inspired by the “Missed Connections” ads in Craigslist or in local freepapers. The results range from humorous and playful to emotionally devastating—and only occasionally a bit cruel. And most surprisingly of all, the results are remarkably rich, consistent and endlessly entertaining, a testament to Wertz’s talents as an editor as well as the range of talent from which she was able to draw for this project.

Given that many of the cartoonists involved in the project specialize in autobiographical comics, several of the entries seem to be inspired from personal experiences. One of my favorites, for example, is by Liz Prince, in which her fantasies about a guy making eyes at her in a coffee shop seem confirmed by a Craigslist entry, until she gets into the fine-print and discovers the eyes were for the girl with the macbook and not for her after all. Or, from another master of the form, the final entry in the collection is from Jeffrey Brown, in which he realizes that his own eye-making habits have teetered over what he rightly describes as the “fine line between ‘hopeless romantic’ and ‘creepy.’” It is in fact this fine line that this entire collection dances along, sometimes falling cleanly onto one side or the other, only to jumble the categories and the attendant emotions once again.

In addition to terrific entries from familiar faces such as Brown, Prince, Wertz, Gabrielle Bell, Peter Bagge, Sarah Glidden, and Keith Knight, some of the most moving pieces in the collection came from cartoonists who were new to me. Lucy Knisley’s meditation on the processes of imagination that circulate around the Missed Connections was a perfect opening to the collection, for example. Ken Dahl has a couple of entries in the collection that are simultaneously dark and brilliantly witty. In fact, even leaving behind the concept of the collection (which like the iPhone turned out to be a very good idea indeed), the collection is to be recommended to all readers interesting in catching a glimpse of a wide range of the talented younger cartoonists out there.

But more than any individual story within the collection, the most impressive aspect of the book is the quality of the whole that stays with you long after you have closed its pages. The book is funny, loving and mean without ever being mean-spirited, and it will summon up for you (assuming the history of your fantasy life has run anything like mine, which we all know it has) all of your most cherished and most loathed encounters with strangers that had the unrealized potential to become a new chapter—but which remained (because of fate, because of your inhibitions, because of your/his/her hairlip, etc.) only missed connections.