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Ellerbisms: A Sporadic Diary Comic

Ellerbisms: A Sporadic Diary Comic Ellerbisms: A Sporadic Diary Comic Ellerbisms: A Sporadic Diary Comic

Ellerbisms: A Sporadic Diary Comic back

Marc Ellerby


Page 45 Review by Stephen

Oh! This is a complete revelation.

It is extraordinary how much difference thirty new framing pages, further recollections filling in context, and some highly judiciously editing makes to the coherence of this story. For, yes, it is now a story. ELLERBISMS online (and in the form of three comics) was entertaining enough as a diversion: some beautiful cartooning and hilarious self-deprecation. But from “a sporadic diary comic” Ellerby has now fashioned a far more nuanced saga of a single relationship with a beginning, a middle and… well… you can certainly see the patterns now. Here’s how it begins:

“Gatwick Airport 24th July 2007. I don’t want to say I was being emo but that’s exactly what I was doing. Sitting in an airport thinking of girls…

“I’ve been keeping a comic diary for a few months and so far it feels a bit empty… like I’m missing out important parts and there’s more to discover. My love life and career choice have never felt so similar. (God, I’m going to combine the two, aren’t I?)
“I’m sitting in the airport. Overthinking everything.”

We’re most of us prone of overthinking things – I can get myself into a right tizzy – but putting it down on paper for the world to see, a permanent record of temporary doubts and demons, however much they may rattle round your head for some time, adds weight to them. It’s almost like putting yourself on trail and there’s a whole stack of evidence here. At one point Ellerby starts fixating on death. And that’s not completely surprising given certain earlier experiences I’ll leave to startle you just as much as they did me – and Marc, profoundly. But there he is all the same, sitting quietly at home as his girlfriend watches television, gazing into her happy eyes but completely unable to let go of his morbid obsession about dying; about being unable to think, feel or touch, experience anything new or again or being left all alone. Forever.

“I’m 26 and I’m fast forwarding to the end. Pondering the inevitable. Letting it get in the way of right now.”

There’s also a great deal of mirth, kindness and empathy, like Marc wondering about the lady living opposite, whom he can see through their windows.

“She stays up until the early hours smoking and doing crosswords. I got it in my head that she was lonely because she was alone. The first time I saw her I could’ve sworn it was my mum. Same hair. Same build. Same height. That’s probably what sparked off my worry to be honest. Now and again I’d hear her phone ring and I hoped it was a son or daughter. No one should be truly alone. I hope I’m wrong. I hope she’s the happiest stranger I’ll never meet.”

As to the mirth, there are films, gigs, holidays; texts, phone calls, comic conventions and showing your pubes off at parties. Acts of random stupidity, as you do. Marc will make you laugh, cry and cringe; but who hasn’t come out with some banter which sounded perfectly playful at the time, but in retrospect afterwards seemed woefully inappropriate? Particularly when the recipients are your in-laws. It’s like Momus’ The Complete History Of Sexual Jealousy (Parts Seventeen To Twenty Four) in that I couldn’t help ticking the boxes: “Yup, done that; oof, done that; oh, dear Christ, I’ve never done that!”

But Marc can also find comedy even on the unlikeliest of days even if it requires a little interpretation. Here he visits the doctor after overheating, losing his vision then panicking on a train… and a certain degree of pain ‘downstairs’. The doctor looks at him disdainfully.

“… Right. Let’s take a look, then. Well, it looks okay to me.”
A while later…
“Nothing stands out as being wrong and I’m not going to invest my time to find out. Here’s a prescription.”

You just ticked one of your own boxes, haven’t you? Still chuckling.

His guest stars are all great value for money. From the comics world you might recognise Adam Cadwell, Lizz Lunney, Jamie McKelvie, John Cei Douglas and John Allison. But the undoubted co-star of the book is Anna, the girl from Sweden whom he meets early on while working together in Waterstones. I was going to type “goth girl” for so she’s described at first, but that limiting label does nothing to describe the breadth of her character and effortless charm. Otherwise someone as eclectic as Ellerby really wouldn’t have fallen for her. Here’s Marc:

"Did that film make you want to start smoking again?"
"Oh yeah. I was sitting there getting cravings. C'mon. That newsagents is still open. We can get some there!"
"I don't even like smoking."
"Yes you do."

While his line refines over time, the cartooning – the range of expressions with instant communicative impact is right there from the get-go. There’s more than a hint of O’Malley and there’s a lot of Matt Groenig particularly in the faces and especially the eyes and profile. It’s all wonderfully elastic whether it’s blissed out happiness, uh-oh, OMG or tender, yearning looks of contrition. Best of best, maybe, both Marc and Anna’s freezers, glowering looks of withering grrr, are spot-on. He’s not immune to tears, either:

“I don’t know why Country Feedback affects me so much. Hearing it in person for the first time is an overwhelming experience. Maybe it’s the selfish lyrical aspect that I associate with low points in my life… (I need this) … but when Peter Buck glides through his guitar solo… it’s like he’s putting my past demons to rest. I never thought I’d ever hear it live… I’m so glad I’m sharing it with Anna.”

Over the course of more than 250 pages, Marc shares a great deal with Anna. The relationship is the core of the book. They live together, travel together, see friends together. They share food, films, laughter and secrets.

But hindsight is a cruel little monster.

Take May 9th 2009 and the simplest of scenes in a Toronto bar where the two sit gazing contentedly at each other in silence. Then Marc says, “If I had a ring on me, I’d ask you to marry me.” “If you had a ring, I’d say yes.” Then there’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival precisely one year and a day later. Ellerby’s with some friends on a panel, answering a question and addressing the audience.

“I guess, yeah. I want to end ELLERBISMS or at least stop for a while. But, hmm, I don’t know how to end it, like. The right strip hasn’t come along yet.”

This is where the context comes in: the new pages, and not just the prologue and epilogue. Already honest about his own drunken jealousy over the attention Anna receives from the comicbook industry by taking the time and trouble to talk to the likes of Top Shelf while Marc holds gingerly back – his outburst is vicious and ungrateful – it’s indicative of the new balance, context and coherence that the Bristol Comic Convention sequence from 10th May 2008 onwards (exactly two years earlier to the day) appears substantially altered in the book. Far from disguising his uncharacteristically mean-spirited misbehaviour, it instead emphasises its seriousness, the impact it had on Anna, and her far more forthright reaction. As originally presented the argument was more of an isolated outburst smoothed over between the couple comparatively quickly. Once you know how the books ends, with an impressively considered epilogue, it’s a great deal more halting.

I mention this because Marc sends out special thanks in the back “to Jeffrey Brown, James Kochalka, Liz Prince and Craig Thompson who do this sort of thing better than me”. And certainly they did, when Marc first set out. But with publication of this ELLERBISMS collection, with its range and heart and its tenderness and his weaknesses – as well as his outright buffoonery – Marc has earned his seat right alongside them. I’d rack this right between James Kochalka and Jeffrey Brown and rank it their thoroughly affecting equal both in insight and entertainment value.