The Art of Failing Buddhism: A Collection of Introspective Comics

The Art of Failing Buddhism

I don’t recall which convention I found this at — probably SPX — but I’m glad I did. It’s an excellent argument for making webcomic books. I wouldn’t have looked twice at the minimally illustrated webcomic, but as a book, I could flip through, find some wisdom, and decide to buy, where I could read it at my own pace. Now I’m signing up to subscribe to the strip online.

Ryan Dow calls his work “introspective comics”, and so they are. Most strips in The Art of Failing Buddhism feature a young man from the chest up sharing his thoughts or talking to a floating Buddha figure. He’s not shy about writing about his loneliness or his struggles understanding how what he wants conflicts with what he does. The first comic in the book explains the series’ genesis, about someone “perpetually lost in thought”.

The Art of Failing Buddhism

I’ve seen some of these observations before, of course, but what makes Dow’s work special is how he grounds his thoughts in the everyday. He risks falling asleep while he meditates. He ponders life while waiting for the bus. His best strips have a sense of hope, a feeling that with right thinking (not succumbing to depression) and hard work, things will get better.

The guy who represents him isn’t graphically complex, but his expressions and emotions are readable and varying, suited to what’s being narrated. At times, I use this volume as a fortune cookie: open the book, read the page, see what you learn. The reminder to take things one step at a time was particularly appreciated, and I found the piece about how sometimes doing all you hope to means cutting back on sleep timely. His love of comics comes through, with strips about appearing at local shows or why he chose the subject he did. The volume ends with the “Li’l Buddha Christmas Special”, a lengthy story about teaching the floating guy the meaning of the holiday, considering its history.

I really enjoyed reading this book, slowly, over a period of weeks. I found plenty to stop and think about, with fresh observations I appreciated and could learn from.

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