Whit’s Thursday Review: Noah Van Sciver’s ‘Saint Cole’
I first picked up some of Noah Van Sciver’s work at SPX a few years ago and was instantly hooked by his everyman’s approach to storytelling and realistically nuanced dialogue. Van Sciver has a special connection with the self-deprecating sad sack, as exemplified in his new comic Saint Cole. I can’t speak to whether Van Sciver is projecting some of his personal ruminations onto Joe, or whether he is just intrigued by characters like him, but either way it is fascinating and thematically relatable to many I’m sure.
Joe, a 28 year old dude who works at a pizza place, seemingly has nothing going for him. He’s the sole breadwinner in his family, as his girlfriend, Nicole, doesn’t work and they have an unplanned baby to take care of. He is either an alcohol abuser or alcoholic. Nicole’s bedraggled mother drops in unexpectedly, much to his annoyance. And on top of that, it’s raining…a lot. Joe is on autopilot: in the way he greets his restaurant patrons with an heir of polite detachment, in his repetitive search to find a ride home from work, and in his daily patience-testing return home. A perfect example of this is the way in which Van Sciver draws Joe and Nicole kissing upon his return. It’s more of an expectation and ritual than anything else.
Joe feels trapped, and in many ways is. Feeling trapped is often self-imposed and self-perpetuating and I’m looking forward to seeing how Joe handles these feelings. Right now he dabbles in escapism, most notably in his fantasies about the new under age hostess Kelly and his self-medication with alcohol. He’s disappointed in what his life has become due to the decisions he’s made, and in his belief that he has settled he has also resigned and withdrawn. Settling is a scary notion, and one that we all experience at some point. Also, in a culture where everyone is expected to be responsible for achieving their own dreams, settling is equated with failure to live up to one’s potential or make better life choices.
Strangely enough, Saint Cole got me thinking about Brené Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability. Brené Brown PhD LMSW, is a researcher and professor at the University of Houston, best known for her TED Talk on the power of vulnerability. I have found her work to be fascinating on a sociocultural level, as well as personal one. So how are the two linked? Doom-and-Gloomers like Joe live in a constant world of shame. Shame is normal, but something that we don’t talk about. Instead we slog along, with a constant inner turmoil that colors our world and ultimately our choices. Part of relieving his shame is having compassion for self and others, which Joe lacks, with the exception of Oscar, his child. As Brown says, “It’s hard to practice compassion when we’re struggling with our own authenticity or when our worthiness is off balance” (Brown 2013, Finding Shelter in a Shame Storm (and Avoiding the Flying Debris)). Whether Joe takes a leap of faith at some point to stop letting his shame victimize him is too early to be determined, but I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds.
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