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Spent

by Joe Matt

In the annals of confessional Loser Lit, few capture the minute details of their own downfall with as much glee and obsessiveness as cartoonist Joe Matt. Matt, an American who lived in Toronto for years and now lives in Los Angeles, has been dissecting his character flaws, doomed relationships, and feverish VHS porn-tape dubbing in his comic book Peepshow since the early 1990s. Spent collects the last four issues of Peepshow in a series of loosely related stories dealing with Matt’s life after he is dumped by his girlfriend. The title refers to juices both creative and otherwise, and asks the question: after nearly 20 years of navel-gazing, has he finally run out?

The best of Matt’s work is exemplified in the third story of the collection. It’s set entirely in a diner, where Joe and fellow cartoonists Seth and Chester Brown have lunch while their conversation plays out like an episode of Seinfeld: nothing in particular happens besides some casual cruelty between friends. Matt blocks out this dialogue with great effect. Neither as precious as Seth’s nor as meticulous as Brown’s, his drawings offer a directness and simplicity that works for their subject matter. And again, like a sitcom, his stories are told almost exclusively in closeups, with the added emphasis of cartoony distortion that enhances their emotional content.

The final story returns to Joe alone at his rooming house and is yet another running monologue about masturbation marathons, disgusting hygiene habits, and failed cartooning ambitions. This becomes tedious, but for every complaint readers might have, Matt beats them to the punch. As he says while examining old pages: “It’s not even a story.… just page after page of me whining about porn. It’s masturbation in comics form.” True enough. But is this self-awareness just another cop-out?

Before we can find out, the story comes to a slapstick conclusion, with slamming doors and cat diarrhea. Despite the thematic repetitiveness and exhaustion, the book still evokes the sense of an ending. Matt may finally be ready to move on to new material. In the meantime, Spent is funny, painful, and ultimately about nothing. Think of it as a guilty pleasure.