“Farewell to a Poor Bastard”

This 1995 photograph is from the book Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-Five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels. It depicts five comics artists who founded a new era and style of autobiographical narrative: Adrian Tomine, Julie Doucet, Chester Brown, Seth, and Joe Matt. After I purchased this wonderful book and first saw this photograph, I could have fainted. I have just about everything each of them has ever published. Each of these artists has altered how I regard literature, art, and life.

Joe Matt is the fellow on the right. He seemed to disappear a few years ago, to the point that his books were no longer available from Drawn & Quarterly. I asked one of the owners of Olympia, Washington’s Danger Room Comics (you must go there!) what was going on with Joe Matt, and he told me that Seth (second from right, above) stays in touch with him; this seemed to me a courteous and circumspect way to indicate that Matt was not doing well.

Jeet Heer’s goodbye to his friend Joe Matt in The Nation, “Farewell to a Poor Bastard,” is beautiful and right.

It was impossible to love Joe Matt without also being intensely exasperated by him. The love and exasperation weren’t in tension but fed off each other: Caring for him was inextricable from irritation at the myriad ways he exercised his gift for self-sabotage. …

The cartoon Joe Matt was a cheapskate, lazy, shallow, and, worst of all, a swinish boyfriend who neglected his flesh-and-blood partners in preference to chronic masturbation to pornography and fantasizing about other women.

This self-portrait of the artist as a young jerkoff earned Joe an intense cult following who marveled at his gift for self-revelation as well as his impeccable comic timing. The real Joe shared many traits with his cartoon alter ego—but also a warmth that won him many friends. …

I got to know Joe Matt while I was working as a journalist in Toronto in the 1990s. I would occasionally write about Joe’s work and also that of his two cartoonist friends Chester Brown and Seth (who sometimes showed up as comic foils in Joe’s work). I had shown my wife, Robin Ganev, Joe’s just published graphic novel, The Poor Bastard. Robin delighted in the book as an accurate portrayal of the dating scene among young Toronto bohemians in the 1990s. Joe’s portrait of himself as a heel impressed her as an essentially accurate rendering of an all-too-common male type. As my friend the journalist Nathalie Atkinson notes, “Many women love Joe Matt’s comics—in part because he confirms everything we suspected.” Despite enjoying the work, Robin wasn’t quite sure she wanted to meet Joe in the flesh. Like Jacqueline Susann after reading Philip Roth’s masturbatory masterpiece Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), Robin admired the work but was reluctant to shake the hand.

As it happened, when she met him, Robin took to Joe immediately. He was witty, self-deprecating, a responsive listener, and disarmingly willing to share personal information.

September 27: The Comics Journal has published a series of reminiscences by Joe Matt’s cartoonist colleagues. They are all really good, but the piece by Seth had me in tears by the time I got to the end of it, so rich is it with memory and conflicting emotions, admiration and love side by side with disdain and disapproval. It’s art.

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