guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

June 2007

Joe Matt, Spent (Drawn & Quarterly, 2007). $19.95, hardcover.

by Jared Gardner

What there to say about Joe Matt that he hasn’t said about himself? He is a self-obsessed porn addict who takes the art of confessional comix to a place that no one in their right mind should want to go. Let’s just say he makes Anne Sexton look reticent, Mae West look chaste, Britney Spears… oh, you get the idea. Before you are done reading Spent, you will know everything you ever wanted to know about Joe Matt’s 30s—from his compulsive cheapness to his compulsive editing of his compulsively borrowed porn tapes. Actually, the two compulsions are intimately related, and it is here (for those not looking for minute instructions on how to edit out the guys’ reaction shots from your porn compilations) that the more interesting work of Matt’s Spent takes place.

Economy and pleasure are the motivating forces of Matt’s life as he presents it here, and they are of course the prime forces driving the comic form itself. At one point Matt describes in painful (and pleasurable) detail a conversation over lunch with his friends and fellow autobiographical comics creators, Seth and Chester Brown, in which his more productive (and successful) buddies talk about how they have worked to deny themselves pleasures of the flesh so that they can put some of that energy into their comics. Matt is incredulous in the face of
this economy, even as he sits there watching his friends eat while he goes hungry so that he won’t have to touch his nest egg currently growing more fecund in the bosom of the bank. Even as he won’t spend his money, he spends himself endlessly (and squanders his considerable talent along the way).

As a self-study in compulsion and addiction,
Spent is one of the most brutally honest and funny books I have read in years. And masturbation has never (ever) looked so unappealing; indeed, were this book to be circulated to schoolchildren, Matt could do more to keep teenage hands where you can see them than centuries of anti-onanist literature. For comics readers, the long conversations with Seth and Brown will be a pleasure and an insight. And the tortured negotiations with publisher Chris Olveros about the completion of the book we are reviewing are delightful. But be forewarned: this is a book in which nothing is learned—no epiphanies, no growth, no moral. The book ends, as it must, in a squirt of feline diarrhea, the revelation that two urine bottles in the closet of your rooming house are even better than one (who knew?), and a brief meditation on the pleasures of collecting old Gasoline Alley  strips. (Matt’s collection has been of immense use to Drawn & Quarterly’s ongoing reprinting of King’s pioneering strip).

This last allusion to yet another of Matt’s compulsions is perhaps the most apt, and also the most disappointing. Like Walt & Skeezix, Matt is aging in real time slowly before our eyes.
Spent reprints Matt’s glacially produced Peepshow #11-14, when things really began to slow down in terms of Matt’s productivity (never an awe-inspiring whirlwind to begin with). Indeed, the four issues that make up this slim volume were originally published between 1998 and 2006. By #14 Matt is showing his age physically, but sadly not in any other way. Compared with Ivan Brunetti (see review in this issue), Matt is determined never to grow up, even as his body (and his bladder) continually betray him. There is something courageous, I suppose, in the stance. But there is also, necessarily, something so profoundly masturbatory (as is only fitting in this case) that we won’t be eagerly anticipating much that is new (or soon) from what comes next (Spent II?).