Let’s talk about the 1990s; it was a time when we made zines. Today, though paper craft is alive and well (unique art items, high design), its very existence stands in contrast to all things digital. But back then, if you wanted to release your ironic vision, you’d better have been good with a photocopier and a stapler. The Complete Stay as you are. (idiosyncratic capitalization and punctuation and all) pulls together a collection of Brad Yung’s humour strips that lurked in zines and in the pages of alternative and underground weeklies in the last decade of the previous millennium.
Yung’s series is more than a time capsule: it captures a Generation X mindset. There’s a certain flavour of dialogue that flourished in the ’90s. Yung’s strips feature guys monologuing about advertising, irony, and nostalgia as a form of entertainment. Every opinion is undercut by commentary; expressing anything sincere is too risky. Irony was the generational currency, from Seinfeld to the dialogue that Kevin Smith built his career on. Yung pairs this cool detachment with a sarcastic takedown of his own generation’s artistic output.
Call it what you will: metafiction, postmodernism, having it both ways, refusing to commit to a point of view, and getting away with it all with a smirk. Yung deliberately explores the tension between detachment and his desire to actually enjoy drawing. This juxtaposition is most notable in his Ninja Turtles pastiche, a series of comics featuring Ninja Bear, whose sword battles are undercut by wry authorial commentary.
There are moments at which Yung breaks with his ironic stance and engages with surprisingly sincere observation. These highlight something comics are good at: telling a visual story with the intimate insight of a first-person perspective. For example, one strip tells of how Yung attends a concert by They Might Be Giants and notices that he is one of the few minority faces in the crowd. During the song “Your Racist Friend,” the white people give him a wide berth. The way he responds feels oddly liberating. This encounter is fresh and somehow feels more enduring than the po-faced commentary. I wish the collection contained more moments like it.