Karl Stevens’ The Lodger

 

Karl Stevens, The Lodger

I enjoyed The Lodger book much more than I expected. My reservations were due to Stevens’ abundant allegiance to the photo-realistic moment. Often comics like this are too static, and too difficult to connect with. More often than not for a story to flow, the visuals need room to breathe; there needs to be a stylistic choice to allow space for the reader’s imagination to activate. Photo-realism tends to squash this tendency, and we’re stuck looking at a bunch of portraits and still lifes.

But Stevens’ book is complicated enough to fold these traits into the experience itself.

The Lodger

Rare instance of Karl choosing familytime pancakes over throbbing hangover

The Lodger is Stevens, a young man trying to make something of himself. After a sudden break-up in the first few pages, he find himself staying in the home of his mentor and his family. This situation remains for the duration of the The Lodger.But Stevens is also a lodger in his own life, and its here that the story and the style find resonance.

Stevens portrays himself as a bit of a wastoid, spending a little too much of his time on drinking, smoking pot and surfing the internet than on painting and drawing, the practices that would ideally lift him, spiritually and socially out of his ruts.

The book is a compilation of strips printed weekly in the Boston Phoenix. It seems he made vast edits to get this into book-shape. Some strips are re-ordered or dropped, a few are cropped and re-lettered to seem more intimate.  Additionally, woven into the narrative often are the sketches or paintings that often the subjects of the strips and are the products of the best of Stevens’ attention.  There are a few moments that are truly wasted, and probably shouldn’t be printed: overly precocious stoner-conversations for instance, but more often than not, the moments that Stevens chooses to detail are funny, ironic and complexly reflective of itself. They show Stevens as a complicated and often charmingly erroneous character.

That these comic strip moments are shown in such visual hyper-detail adds a layer of irony to the Stevens character and his slacker pursuits. He clearly spends a great deal of time and attention on his artwork, and in this the book ultimately is about seeing, and artmaking as salvation, and for that reason it makes sense that over-rendered drawings would actually make us feel more for the character.

The Lodger 2

The new girlfriend

Whether consciously or not, Stevens found great side-characters in the painting-teacher mentor, who seems to have found the peace Karl seeks, though not great commercial success. A new girlfriend, whose creativity is vibrant and counterpoint to Stevens more dour, pursuit of art for salvation. And finally, the family dog who is anthropomorphized to become a gentle id for the entire strip.

In essence, Stevens has created a perfect comic strip: full of great characters all working kaleidoscopically to elucidate the author’s most personal themes. It’s Peanuts for all the aimless, overly-intellectual, unsung geniuses we all are.