Sidescrollers

Reading the description of this graphic novel’s premise — three teenage boys hang out and play video games until one decides to pursue the girl he’s got a crush on, resulting in (according to the publisher) “a giant rock ‘n’ roll videogame adventure!” — one might be forgiven for thinking that Oni is trying to reach the audience who loved their surprise hit Scott Pilgrim.

Sadly, this new book comes nowhere close. In contrast to SP’s energy and entertainment value, Sidescrollers‘s mood matches that of its characters, a lazy “what happens next?” approach that makes pushing through its length a chore instead of a joy.

Sidescrollers cover
Sidescrollers
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The plot, such as it is, involves Matt’s crush on new girl and co-worker Amber. Amber dates Richard, the local jock king, while Matt’s too shy to even speak to her. When they’re not bemoaning their social status, the boys banter about cereal mascots and other trendy bits of pop culture trivia. I quit reading when he and his buddies decided vandalism was an appropriate way to handle their repressed resentment. It became too immature for me to recover from.

Loux’s art is an acquired taste. The incredibly thick, bold lines outline characters who resemble forms more than people. Shapes are exaggerated beyond style to grotesques, with painfully pointed shoulders, elbows, and chins. Given that one of the plot points revolves around a cat, the pet’s greater resemblance, when drawn, to a ferret got in my way as a reader.

I know we’re supposed to sympathize with Matt’s crush and think that he would be a much better choice for Amber than Richard, but I’ve outgrown that automatic identification with the geek underdog. It’s a lazy plotting shortcut, and as a character, Matt is given nothing to recommend him to Amber.

Why should a girl choose a boy who can’t speak to her and even hides from her just because he thinks she’s hot? I know that’s the expected storyline, popular with those readers likely to identify heavily with Matt and his buddies, but I keep visualizing him ignoring her to play videogames with the guys. Meanwhile, it’s hinted that Richard is secretly attracted to men, an unnecessary implication that I hope was followed up on. Without some payoff, it feels like an unpleasantly immature approach: “he’s not only mean and bullying, he’s gay, too!”

If you’d like to decide for yourself, there’s a 71-page preview (out of a total 216 pages) available online. There’s also information about the book at the publisher’s website, and the artist has a livejournal. He previously illustrated F-Stop, also from Oni.

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12 Responses to “Sidescrollers”

  1. Douglas Says:

    Can you really write a review for a book you didn’t even finish reading? It seems a little… illegal.

  2. Johanna Says:

    That’s a funny adjective. :)

    “I didn’t like this enough to force myself to finish it” or “this annoyed me so much I gave up” IS a review. It’s not the kind you want to read all the time (and used too often, it becomes a cop-out) but it’s a valid statement of opinion (and a rather damning indictment of the work). See also this recent Steven Grant column for another defense of the approach.

  3. Dave Lartigue Says:

    You don’t have to drink the whole carton of milk to know it’s sour.

  4. Johanna Says:

    I am so stealing that!

  5. ~chris Says:

    Just to offer an opposing point of view: I actually enjoyed SideScrollers. I liked Loux’s art on F-Stop; his characters all tend to be elongated, and the cats were drawn in that style to emphasize their movements. (You’re right, though, they do look like ferrets.)

    Like you, I did not like the vandalism scene. And Richard’s attraction to men was never followed up; it should have been left out of the story entirely.

    Matt does talk to Amber (after much prodding), and his worth as a possible boyfriend was developed as the book went along; he easily became the one likable member of the three main characters. Best of all, Amber was more than the “hot girl who’s dating the jock and is pined for by the geek.” We find out why she’s with Richard, and though Matt tries to come to her rescue, she is intelligent enough to figure things out on her own (concluded in a hilarious scene), and doesn’t need to be rescued.

    I’m outside the target audience– I’m 44, and the newest video game system I have is Sega Genesis– and the story is quite immature. I don’t think you’ll change your mind if you read the rest of the book, but others might enjoy it if they’re looking for a silly popcorn read with just a tiny bit of heart.

  6. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for the alternate perspective (and the additional info)! I’m sure that it does suit others better than me — it seemed to be popular at SPX, for instance.

  7. Joey Says:

    Passing judgement without fully reading the book? I happen to have read this book,and subsequently was out of breath for an hour, from too much laughing. shame on you, sir.

  8. Zuda for August 2008 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] exception to that observation, Matthew Loux (Sidescrollers, Salt Water Taffy) contributes Rhandom Escape, a science fiction adventure. His distinctive style [...]

  9. jiro Says:

    i dug it. good job

  10. Roy Says:

    Frankly, you should always finish a book before reviewing it. And if you don’t think you’re apart of the target audiance, then you should know it won’t be the kind of humor you would enjoy. As far as immaturity goes, it’s three teenagers who are in the summer after graduating. What’d you expect? Fully developed businessmen? Well, it’s crude, adolescent humor. As a highschool student, I liked it. And the “Bad Dudes” scene was just a gag to show that Rishard wasn’t as great as he would’ve seemed to the other students. Also… Can anyone tell me what “Un scorpio en tus hombros, senior” means?

  11. Bubby Says:

    @Roy
    I believe it means “a scorpion on your shoulder mister”.

  12. Logan Says:

    If you are a fan of comics like scott pilgrim for the energy or wackiness or what have you then of course you’re not going to enjoy sidescrollers. The main characters are the most realistic teenages characters i’ve seen in a long time. Being a nerdy, lazy guy like matt brad and brian, i know all too well that Loux hit the head on the nail for realism.
    The art work is also phenomenal. Never once did i question what was happening due to a strange use of motion.
    Going back to the entertainment, if what makes something funny to you is the randomness and or the absurdity of the physics and situation, then a comic that is as realistic as possible in almost every situation ( minus a few that are set up a little too conveniently, and the cat scenes) Is going to be a chore to go through because it lacks the type of humor you crave, wacky and convenient. If you are a fan of a dryer, situation based humor you will undoubtedly enjoy sidescrollers, given of course you understand the references and jokes in the story itself.

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