Writer(s): Joe Matt
Artist(s): Joe Matt
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Page count: 120
Year Released: 2007
Status: in print
Original Source: Peepshow 11-14
Other Collected Edition(s): n/a
Genres: autobiography; slice of life
Recommended for Fans Of: self-hating confessionals
Possibly Objectionable Material: coarse language; male nudity; sexual situations
If You Like This Book, Try: It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken; Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth; Twentieth Century Eightball
Also in This Series: Peepshow; Poor Bastard; Fair Weather
There's not much in the way of a "plot" in Joe Matt's books. Spent starts with a conversation/argument between Matt and his fellow cartoonist and friend Seth. Then Matt meets up with a guy who rents him porn videos for two dollars apiece. Then we watch as Matt obsessively edits together a "best of" tape of scenes from the porn videos he's borrowing from his supplier. Then there's another conversation/argument among Matt, Seth, and fellow cartoonist/friend Chester Brown. In the last sequence, Matt masturbates, thinks about how disappointing his recent comics work has been, talks on the phone with his publisher, regrets buying old Gasoline Alley newspaper strips, and is generally miserable about the state of his life. The end.
My Own 2 Cents
Though I didn’t expect much in the way of brilliant storytelling (having read Joe Matt’s previous collections of his Peepshow series), this latest volume was still a bit of a disappointment. I am in awe of Matt’s narrative abilities, as well as his drawing style. But he tends to waste it on subject matter that nowadays feels stale and uninteresting. And considering how long it takes him to produce a new book of material (generally a five-year gap between collections), I wish he’d spend his creative time on something a bit more substantial.
As Matt says in the book (during a conversation he has with Seth), his legendary cheapness has allowed him to put nearly all of the money he’s earned over the years into savings and mutual funds, so that he doesn’t have to work very hard or even very often in his chosen profession as a cartoonist in order to continue to live the way he is happiest to live (which is to say cheaply).
Who of us wouldn’t want a job—even if it’s one we like—that could take a backseat to our leisure activities as often as we wanted it to? But, as an artist, Matt’s productivity is so low that we’re essentially reading the same sad story he’s been drawing since 1987. In fact, this latest book details some totally random minutia from a brief span of days in Matt’s life that happened way back in 1994, even though Spent was published in 2007. (Granted, the Peepshow issues of which this book is made up were published earlier—in 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2006—but still, I think my point remains valid.)
This points to a larger problem in Matt’s work. Whether it’s his slow production rate (i.e., perhaps Matt sits down to draw so infrequently that a story he started in 1994 wasn’t finished until 13 years later) or some sort of Peter Pan syndrome (at one point in the book, while looking through his high school yearbook, Matt says, perhaps a bit too proudly, “I've barely changed”), Matt’s work is, at this point, completely repetitious.
Even worse, Matt’s obnoxious and/or repellent character attributes, which serve as the focus of his stories, just aren’t that funny or entertaining anymore when you realize that Matt is 45 years old at the time Spent was published. Back in the ’80s, when he was an angry young man, Matt’s original one-page Peepshow strips were hilarious. Building upon the raw, autobiographical mode of Crumb’s and Pekar’s stories, Matt portrayed himself as an obnoxious, 20-something weirdo, ashamed to let us know that he eats his own scabs and boogers—but still letting us know. However, the humor in those days relied on more than the spectacle of a slightly gross human being. The early Peepshow strips had a spark, an energy. In Spent, the humor has been stripped away, and all that’s left is the spectacle. It’s a shame, because Matt’s two closest friends in the industry, Seth and Chester Brown, started out in much the same way that he did, but over the years their work evolved out of the confessional/autobiographical genre and into more mature modes of storytelling, where Matt has remained stuck in that self-loathing mode of his youth.
Perhaps it’s time for Joe Matt to grow up. Or perhaps, at this point, a midlife crisis would be more effective.
Writer(s): Joe Matt