The 120 Days of Simon

Simon Gardenfors spent four months bumming around his native Sweden, staying on random people’s couches, sleeping around, and doing drugs. He captured this in 400+ pages with absolutely no lesson learned. (I much preferred the similar Red Eye, Black Eye, where the author had to travel, instead of choosing to goof off, and focused on those he met instead of being so self-centered.)

The 120 Days of Simon cover
The 120 Days of Simon
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My first problem was not being able to judge Simon’s self-image. He puts up a call for places to crash on his website, and he calls himself a cartoonist and rapper. But because I know nothing of Sweden (and I didn’t learn much from this volume, since he rarely draws anything but himself, rooms, and couches), I had no idea how famous he was. I didn’t know whether his idea that fans would feed and house him was self-deluded or sensible.

Page of 120 Days of Simon

Early on, an unidentified friend sums up the concept as shown. I didn’t know just how accurate a description of the book it was at the time. All of the pages look like this, by the way, with two mostly black panels on top of each other. Simon’s cartooning is minimal, drawing himself with a perfectly round head, as though he were a Fisher-Price person. I also never knew whether the dots on his face were stubble, freckles, or zits.

Simon portrays himself, at times, as quite the jerk. He promises people he won’t put them in his comic — but since we’re reading about them, you can see that didn’t mean anything. He fools around with a teen girl in her parents’ house. He thinks he’s in love, but he wants to keep sleeping around for a while because he doesn’t “wanna risk my freedom right now.” He screws up a promising relationship with a female cartoonist because he would rather spend his 120 days having random sex. When he bursts into tears because she finally gives him the heave-ho, instead of sympathizing with him, I thought, “good! Maybe he’ll learn something.” I was disappointed; he didn’t.

Things are mentioned that are never followed up. Early on, Simon complains about how being fed and drugged is making him gain weight. He worries that it’s going to make him less sexually attractive, but based on the conquests he later shows, that’s not a problem. We never know whether he loses the pounds or just accepts being pudgier — it’s simply never mentioned again.

I believe we’re supposed to enjoy reading about his wacky adventures for their own sake, but I’ve already seen “manboy over-indulges, refuses to grow up” in plenty of other comics. The Swedish setting could have made this unique if anything had been done with it. Instead, Simon trips out on hallucinogenic cactus, comes to a major realization, then ignores it to conclude he knew that stuff all along. His self-centeredness is breathtaking. Late in the book, he gets a $40,000 grant (that was never previously mentioned) to make all his money problems go away. What a waste!

The pictures are frequently unnecessary, mostly talking heads. The details are hard to capture in this minimalist style — beer cans look like sushi rolls, for example. During one section, where a black girl’s brother threatens him for sleeping with her, the drawings are mildly racist, with their big lips. This book is a stunning example of the usual criticisms made against autobiographical comics, that they’re about a bunch of spoiled guys who don’t have the imagination to come up with a story so instead disappear down their own navel. (The publisher provided a review copy and has posted preview pages.)


3 Responses to “The 120 Days of Simon”

  1. John Says:

    I pretty much agree with you, but will add that another of the Top Shelf Swedish books – Hey Princess – does pretty much everything 120 Days doesn’t – satisfying a lot of your criticism about it – and uses the Swedish culture angle to its advantage. You should give it a shot if you haven’t already!

  2. Johanna Says:

    Interesting you should mention that one — I looked at both, and picked 120 Days to cover because I found the art style more superficially attractive. (I like that clean design.) I guess I went the wrong way — and now I don’t think I have Hey Princess any more. Oh well, my mistake.

  3. Hsifeng Says:

    Johanna Says:

    “Simon Gardenfors spent four months bumming around his native Sweden…The Swedish setting could have made this unique if anything had been done with it…”

    Good point about how you received it as a non-Swede. Now I wonder if Gardenfors wrote it more for the Swedish market (which might not find a Swedish setting an angle?) or the international one (not being sarcastic here, I’ve heard of writers with other less-commonly-read native languages keeping the international markets in mind too, like Rutu Modan and Taban lo Liyong).

    John Says:

    “I pretty much agree with you…”

    I haven’t read it but from the review seems like it’s not my cup of tea either.

    John Says:

    “…but will add that another of the Top Shelf Swedish books – Hey Princess – does pretty much everything 120 Days doesn’t – satisfying a lot of your criticism about it – and uses the Swedish culture angle to its advantage. You should give it a shot if you haven’t already!”

    Did either of you see the commercial for them? It’s always cool to see publishers discover more stuff to translate. :) I wonder where English-language publishers of comics will focus on next after Japan, South Korea, the Francophonie, and now Sweden?

    Johanna Says:

    “…I guess I went the wrong way — and now I don’t think I have Hey Princess any more. Oh well, my mistake.”

    http://www.worldcat.org/title/hey-princess/oclc/489009480




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