I experienced a mounting sense of unease as I read Life Sucks (First Second), and it was only partly due to the increasing menace of the book’s events. Things do get tense as it goes along, but my discomfort stemmed from the fact that an amiable comic was becoming, if not precisely the kind of story it mocked, something I found equally deserving of disdain.
I should admit that I’m a hard sell for vampire stories to begin with, for many of the reasons creators Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria and Warren Pleece cite in the early going. I find the gloomy, self-pitying romanticism of many of them off-putting and outright dull, so anything that promises to take the wind out of those particular sails is generally welcome. (Joann Sfar’s Vampire Loves, also from First Second, is a winning example.)
Life Sucks starts well. Dave has been turned into a vampire because his sire needed someone to work the night shift at his convenience store, sticking Dave with a lifestyle he never chose and its depressing mechanics of servitude. He’s nauseated by blood, so he subsists on plasma, which leaves him without any of the physiological benefits vampirism can offer to the aggressive. He wasn’t exactly on the fast track before he was made, but now he faces a long, lonely lifetime of changing the dates on the milk and restocking the beef jerky display.
I’m fairly sure I could have read an entire graphic novel about Dave carping about his circumstances, hanging out with his friends, and getting badgered by his boss, Radu. (Radu has traded in capes and castles for track suits and entrepreneurship, abandoning Transylvania for California.) Dave is mopey, but at least he has reason to complain, and his friends are endearing.
Unfortunately, Abel and company decided at some point that a plot was necessary. And here’s where I encounter a problem with evaluating the book objectively, because it hinges on two devices that I always find particularly objectionable. One is when two characters place a bet on which of them can win the heart of a third. Once that element comes into play and a person is treated like a trophy, you’ve generally lost me, no matter how deservedly miserable the outcome is for the wagerers.
The second element that chafes is when a character lies or withholds information that could protect another character, especially if that kind of dishonesty serves no meaningful purpose. Mileage on whether the dishonesty in Life Sucks was necessary or at least in balance with the alternative will obviously vary, but it struck me as a choice made because there would have been no more story if it hadn’t been.
So I can’t say for sure if the presence of two driving bits of narrative that I can’t stand under just about any circumstances makes Life Sucks bad, or just bad for me. I do think the conclusion is bizarrely staged, with significant events described after the fact instead of actually rendered for readers (not that I yearned for it to be longer). And I do think Rosa, Dave’s inamorata, starts promisingly but ends up behaving in ways that drive plot instead of making sense. And I do think “I can barely stand to look at you” is an appallingly bad line of dialogue anywhere outside of a Barbara Stanwyck movie.
But overall, I just don’t know. Part of me feels that this book simply, empirically doesn’t work, but another part wonders if my personal biases are overtaking my judgment.
(This quasi-review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)