Biddi-biddi-boo, Or: The Eltingville Prescience

EcThe Eltingville Club; Dark Horse Comics; 2016 (originally published 1994-2015); $19.99; 144 pgs.

Either Evan Dorkin’s got the Eltingville TV rights back or whoever has them is a complete numbskull because the book’s so relevant you could subtitle it “An Incel Fable” and it’d be totally appropriate, narratively speaking.

But it’d be somewhat intellectually dishonest, as Dorkin started The Eltingville Club long before the incels had a self-identity or community. Dorkin’s actually way too optimistic… or maybe anti-pessimistic in his predications for fandom.

This edition collects every Eltingville story, published over twenty-one years from 1994 to 2015. The last two stories are the two-issue closer Dorkin did, which I had read when they were published; I hadn’t read any of the shorter strips. I did watch the TV pilot, which is “included” in the trade in the pilot was an adaptation of one of the stories.

I actually won this book in a giveaway promotion Dorkin ran. It’s one of the few things I’ve won online. Awesome prize.

I had planned on reading through the collection (does anyone else want to call hardcover collections trades but then can’t because they aren’t?), but an Eltingville-read friend told me it might be better with some breaks. And, wow, is he right. Eltingville is exhausting.

Although Dorkin published the book over twenty-one years, besides the final “flash forward,” no one ages. The Club is frighteningly eternal, its four members not growing any older or any wiser over their adventures. Their adventures always involve some major pop culture—or, at least at the time, comic book culture details, which do change to reflect current events. So it’s a comic strip where the characters don’t age but react to current events.

I didn’t realize how long the two final issues ran and I expected to read the book in three sittings; first two sittings the shorter stories, last sitting the two-parter. But it turns out there actually isn’t a lot of shorter stuff, it’s sixty percent of the material sure, but it’s nine strips adding up to sixty percent.

It’s fine—it makes the first issue of the two-parter even more impressive to see how artfully Dorkin is able to scale to a longer narrative—but it did leave me focused on the finale more than the first twenty years of material.

Most of the stories involve the Club getting into either a fight or significant trouble (or illness) because leader Bill is a complete dick. Bill is the comics guy. Josh is the sci-fi guy. Pete is the horror guy. Jerry is the RPG guy. Bill’s the leader and finds himself constantly arguing with Josh, because—as it turns out as the series progresses—they’re alter egos. Sort of. Enough. Pete and Jerry are mostly just there, though Pete gets enough material over the stories it’s too bad when he becomes such a significant creep in the flash forward.

Dorkin doesn’t have any sympathy for the Club and doesn’t ask for any from the reader. They’re assholes. To each other, to their parents, to everyone. It’s incredible. And incredibly funny. Dorkin gets some crying laughing laughs into these stories. Sometimes you don’t even need to get the pop culture reference.

Reading the original, mid-nineties stories, Dorkin’s prescient about where fandom and the Internet is going. Eltingville never feels dated, even when they’re talking about Batman Forever. Dorkin was really good about anticipating burgeoning fandoms too. The older stories are also relevant as a documenting of the evolving fandom awfulness.

Dorkin’s epilogue is somewhat hopeful (realistically hopeful?) for things, though it’s from 2015 and 2015 was a time where measured hopefulness was still a thing.

Would Eltingville be as good if the world weren’t such a shit show? Yes, but there’d be different adjectives to use about Dorkin. The comic is just the right combination of hilarious and terrifying. Excellent art from Dorkin—it’s really cool to see how he’s developed, cartooning-wise, with the last two issues. Eltingville is a must.

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