Some Misery Art for Valentine's Day

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"Hello: ...An informal expression, utilized as a greeting, in answer of a telephone, or as a means of summoning attention..."

-From Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

Lovebirds may be the most content among human kind--but that does not mean they are the most interesting. Lonely drifters tend to provide the fodder for what I call misery art, as their angst can be ceaselessly fascinating, and even endearing.

I myself had quite the angst-filled morning, sans the interest and endearment, a little over a week ago. It consisted of some rather mundane ingredients: an early wake up call, a gray sky, a torrent of wind and snow, and smashed car windows. What saved my day was the ironically redemptive properties of misery art.

See, I drove my freshly-smashed car over to Leopold’s and asked the ever-helpful co-owner of the joint, Greg Lenhoff, to recommend a graphic novel. He gave me Chris Ware’s award-winning, decade-plus-old Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth with a warning attached: it’s quite sad, he informed me.

To (Greg's) wit:

"Lonely:...Alone, or by oneself. The permanent state of being for all humans, despite any efforts to the contrary. Can be soothed or subdued in a variety of ways, viz. marriage, sexual intercourse, board games, literature, music, poetry, television, party hats, pastries, etc., but cannot be solved."

-From Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

The book makes for a great companion piece to Charlie Kaufman’s film Synecdoche, New York. It’s about one Jimmy Corrigan, daydreamer extraordinaire. Jimmy suffers from all the good stuff: social isolation, romantic longing, existential woe, major daddy issues. His fantasies—of Superman committing suicide, of robots, of shrunken horses (you know, that kind of stuff)—are warped in just the right way.

Jimmy Corrigan takes place in both Chicago and Michigan. The story taps into the universality of angst and the torment that inevitably comes, at one point or another, with an especially restless mind. It is the ultimate tale of quiet desperation, but it is constructed with a passion that is actually oddly heartening. Misery art tends to reveal its hidden optimism through the earnestness of its telling and the sweetness of its style. (Side note: this sort of thing can be done poorly; "misery art" must be distinguished from "misery porn," such as, say, the films of Alejandro González Iñárritu.) All of this seems especially relevant in a Detroit context because I've long suspected that people who prefer Detroit--this is rather different from being resigned to it--also prefer, on some level, the complexities of ambiguity and angst to the predictabilities of certainty and serenity.

So if your Valentine's Day does not end up being everything you have been told it is supposed to be,  head to Leopold’s (The Park Shelton, 15 E Kirby St., Detroit), snag a copy of Jimmy Corgan, and get your lonely on.

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