Thursday Comics Hangover: To be young and sad

Local cartoonist Elk Paauw’s minicomic It’s Okay to Be Sad Sometimes is a collection of short comics about sadness. Are all the sadnesses linked to a single cause? Maybe; it’s not entirely clear, though Paauw does allude to a breakup several times. In any case, the book works as a narrative about a single depression or as a thematic collection.

In the first couple pages, Paauw draws themself crying on a train; Paauw’s eyes are big, doe-y bubbles with leaking reservoirs of tears just underneath. A woman on the train turns to Paauw, who angrily replies, “Yes. I’m crying. Move on.” That’s the whole strip, and it seems to be a real you-get-it-or-you-don’t kind of an affair. Either you’ve been sad in public and can relate, or you haven’t and you don’t.

Recognition is key to the appreciation of Sad. The comics in the first half are all about being sad in various situations — buying ice cream, attending a party, riding transit — and the comics in the second half are about what happens when you try to climb out of it. (Will sex help? Is it even possible to find someone to have sex with? How does anyone successfully manage to have sex?) Most of the comics are just a few panels long, and the book feels slight, like a rough draft of something bigger (though for $5, you probably shouldn’t go in with expectations for a dense narrative in the first place.)

Paauw is a gifted young cartoonist. They use dense, almost Sharpie-like lines in their art, but the amount of expressiveness they draw from those lines is surprising. The manga-by-way-of-Scott-Pilgrim influences are clear, but not oppressive; unlike the exaggeration of the comics that influence Paauw’s art, these comics are strictly grounded in realism. You’ve made these faces, worn clothes that hang like this, hugged your mother and cried this way.

Sad is obviously a work by someone who’s just getting started as a cartoonist. You won’t find the shorthand and nuance of, say, a Peter Bagge comic here. But if your cartooning tastes veer more toward the punky end of the spectrum — those works of art that are all about truth and attitude and feelings — you’ll find a lot to like here. It’s a story of figuring it all out, written by someone who is standing on the crossroads, trying to decide what to do next. Whatever “next” entails for Paauw, hopefully they’ll keep making comics.