Seattle cartoonist Tom Van Deusen’s newest book, EAT EAT EAT, is the latest entry in a long comics tradition: a humorous book about a feckless loser who doesn’t possess the self-awareness to realize that he is a feckless loser. It’s a somewhat proud (if self-loathing) lineage, stretching to Chris Ware and Ivan Brunetti from R. Crumb and Dan Clowes and on and on and on.
<EAT EAT EAT is the story of a feckless loser named Tom Van Deusen (the indicia informs us that the book “is a work of pure fiction. Any assertions otherwise are an insult to God and His reality, so how dare you.”) He sits in his apartment, eating whole frozen pizzas and growing fat. He goes on a date with a woman he tracked down on Facebook, and he’s so impossibly self-centered that things turn out badly.
Van Deusen’s portrayal of Van Deusen is entirely at the level of caricature; the cartoon Van Deusen can’t walk past a street food vendor without buying something, even after his date affirms that she’s a vegetarian and she has no interest in eating bad food handed to her by a stranger on a street corner. Then, after the date implodes — the word “m’lady” is involved — Van Deusen tries to join a gym. Things only get worse, and more absurd, from there.
Your taste for this brand of comedy will vary, of course. As someone who read a lot of alternative comics in the 90s, I appreciate what Van Deusen is going for, but I have seen this particular scenario play out in dozens of comics; at this point, the overly pretentious hate-able loser routine feels almost like a nostalgia act. Van Deusen pulls it off really well — he’s undeniably a funny, talented cartoonist — and he invents some new angles on the routine, as when the cartoon Van Deusen “maintain[s] his Facebook angles” on his date, which means he tries to keep his face in the same tortured position as the flattering photo on his Facebook profile as he and his date walk around. It’s an additional, modern humiliation to heap onto the time-honored tradition.
The strips collected in EAT EAT EAT were originally published between 2011 and 2015, and it’s astonishing to watch Van Deusen’s illustration develop and grow over the span of those four years. His early style had a rough charm to it — it was too feathery for my liking — but his later work is developing a nice cartoonish roundness that plays off the prickliness of the writing in a particularly pleasing way. By the end of EAT EAT EAT, the cartoon Van Deusen is just as delusional as ever, but the cartooning Van Deusen leaves the book well-equipped for whatever his next comics challenge may be. I, for one, can’t wait to see what he does next.