J.T. Yost is the creator of the Xeric winning comic Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales which ComixTalk reviewed in 2009. Today I'm covering three new mini comics he has out this year: It's Dream Time, Snoop Doggy Dogg and two issues of Losers Weepers. All three books are available from Yost's publishing label Birdcage Bottom Books.
It's Dream Time is really just that – a string of dreams featuring celebrities including Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dick Cheney, Roseanne, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Henry Rollins. Although not completely crazy, all of these short stories feel like dreams with odd narrative disruptions and odd congruences of people, places and events. They're dreams so they don't have to make a lot of sense. Snoop Doggy Dogg crashes a party the character of Yost is at (it's not really clear whether these are meant as fiction or autobiography) and proceeds to tell a crazy story about his t-shirt selling, drug dealing cousin from Ciudad Juarez. Yost picks up Dick Cheney for a photo shoot for Rolling Stone magazine only to drive him home for it. Then Cheney may or may not be trying to poison Yost… oh yeah, somehow Yost's brother is hanging out at Dick Cheney's house too. Yost's girlfriend Karen and Arnold Schwarzenegger confront Yost about his lack of passion for Karen which turns into a reality television show. Oh and when Karen kicks Yost out and he moves back into his parent's place, his mom lets him sleep in the backyard.
Is there anything going on beyond the recounting of actual dreams (or constructing of fictional ones)? A little bit definitely. The one with Arnold Schwarzenegger has some definite vibes of anxiety going on in it, from the sudden appearance of his girlfriend with another man (is Arnold representative of "he-men" or is he an object of mockery) to the sudden realization that it's all happening live on a reality television show to the collapse of his parents as ultimate support system. The one with Dick Cheney perhaps links the ominous place Cheney held in American politics for the last decade and links it to a much more personal threat to Yost himself. I suppose Dick Cheney would be amused that he is haunting J. T. Yost's dreams! (You know if any political figure actually tilts his head back and lets off a hearty, cackling "mwha ha ha!" it's Cheney.) Even the dream with Henry Rollins has moments of anxiety because in it Yost has misplaced his Dad's presents. When you get down to it a lot of dreams are like that – anxiety in a pure form, dressed up in non sequitur puzzle pieces slapped together by your sleeping brain.
Losers Weepers is a bit more formalistic in its device. Yost takes found objects, like journal pages and letters, which are entirely real and builds a story around them. Each of the first two issues of Losers Weepers includes these found objects with comics around them. The first issue of Losers Weepers builds around a journal entry, a poem and a note. The opening scene of two guys coming back to their apartment only to discover it had caught on fire is really only a framing device so that one of them can discover the abandoned journal while cleaning out the ruined apartment. I think the journal is supposed to be written by the woman named Lupe who appears in the next scene. It's not entirely clear and the transition from the opening scene to the journal entry to the next scene is the one that works the most awkwardly to me. In part it's because the journal entry — about a woman who was dating a mentally ill man who got a lot worse after being attacked — is so long and the handwriting is so hard to read that it wasn't until I read the transcript of it at the back of the comic that I had a clue to what it was about.
In any event everything in the comic after the journal entry works in the way I would think this formalistic experiment could succeed. We have a scene of a couple running into Lupe's ex-boyfriend Sean. Out of sympathy for the way she broke up with Sean she convinces her current boyfriend George to go see the ex-boyfriend's spoken word act that night. Sean is an ex-junkie who at that exact point is clean but seeing Lupe happy with the new boyfriend sends him over the edge. His spoken word performance is taken from a poem Yost found on the back of an envelope in New York. It's meant to shock and does kind of freak out the woman and her boyfriend (the reaction shot of them to the performance is pretty funny). Next we cut to a scene of Sean who is homeless talking to another homeless person named Tiger. Yost uses the contents of a note he found in New York as a note that Tiger leaves for Sean which leads to the tragic ending of the comic.
I think the second issue works even better. Yost builds a narrative around the sad, pleading letter of Juan (in Spanish but Yost provides a rough translation in the back of the comic) to his wife. Yost builds up a picture of Juan as a delinquent, alcoholic who is also now dead. The wife ("Ms. Martinez") next has to attend to problems at school for her son Jesus. Yost includes a kid's note found at a park in New York with choices like "Hide and seek" or "Make fun of Kevin" and it's used as an example of Jesus' problems at school. The principle also mentions he's worried about her daughter Valentina who has submitted a wandering essay recently (found again in New York). It all leads up to one upset mother who encounters one more note on her car windshield that leads to the book's downbeat ending.
Losers Weepers is an interesting premise – a formal challenge to Yost to make a coherent and moving narrative out of found objects from life, but one that I think he's done some interesting stuff with and I look forward to the third installment.
The creator provided free copies of these comics to ComixTalk for review purposes.