Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: The Fun Family by Benjamin Frisch





Beloved cartoonist Robert Fun has earned a devoted following for his circular daily comic strip, celebrating the wholesome American family by drawing inspiration from his real home life... but the Fun Family bears some dark secrets. As their idyllic world collapses and the kids are forced to pick up the pieces, will their family circle become a broken mirror, or a portal to a nightmare world? In his debut graphic novel, Benjamin Frisch presents a surreal deconstruction of childhood, adulthood, and good old American obsession.

I'll be straight up honest with you from the get go. I really didn't like this work. There's a lot going on here and at times I really felt that Frisch was just trying a little too hard to bring in various different themes and deconstruct not only the long running and beloved daily comic The Family Circus, but various American ideas, ideals, and thought processes. There may be some minor spoilers in this here and there, so fair warning.

That said, I do have to say that Frisch has certainly done a good job of capturing some of the most prevalent habits of modern day humanity and showcasing how ludicrous those habits can become. Psychology and religion are two common opiates of the masses and while it'd be initially easy to assume that Frisch is ridiculing them because they exist, this isn't what he's doing here. What Frisch is doing, or at least what I thought he was doing, was showing how utterly dependent people are on either practice, following them so obediently that they rarely question or challenge whether or not they're acting in ways that is ultimately healthy for either themselves or the people around them. The only person who really challenges these ideals is the eldest son Robby, as he tries to find a way to maintain the status quo even as those around him dismiss him for his actions.

Now before you go and start to think that Robby represents the rational mind in this work, you need to understand that Robby is also representative of an unhealthy line of thought himself. Part of the reason why everyone in the book launched into their own particular, frequently dysfunctional methods of finding self-enlightenment and happiness is because the status quo wasn't working for them. They were unhappy because they were in this unchanging world and ultimately what Robby is asking for is for them to return to that life. The only problem is that once the dam opens up and the flooding starts it's pretty much impossible to return to the way things once were, especially when the one trying to restore the prior pecking order is not the person who created said order. Still, it's hard not to share in Robby's frustration when he tries so hard to achieve success and for a brief moment gets it, only for that success to falter and leave. It's especially easy to empathize when Robby sees everyone around him seemingly become happy despite their methods having aspects that are just as toxic as the lifestyle they all left behind.

I really think that this book would have greatly benefited from being far shorter than it was, but I can't help but wonder if the book's length was a deliberate nod towards the longevity of comics like The Family Circus where its never aging cast goes through the same actions again and again. If it was then that's sort of clever but it still didn't do much for me as a reader and at times I just really wanted things to wrap up. If I'd picked this up in a bookstore I'd have put this back unfinished, but as a reviewer I figured that I'd keep going.

Now something to take in mind here is that opinions on work like this are highly, highly subjective. Surreal comics of this type rarely achieve mainstream popularity, so I can't entirely dismiss this offhand. I didn't like it, but I do admire how darn ambitious Frisch was with this work. The artwork is well done in that it doesn't fit well with the story's feel, which produces a jarring effect that's actually one of the things I liked about the piece. The whole wrongness of it was just interesting.

So do I recommend this? Eh... I'm not sure. I disliked the work but as you can tell it clearly made me think, so I kind of have to recommend this as one of those "make you think" type of deals. The reviews for this work are likely to be predominantly negative, but if this work doesn't develop a cult following I'm going to be very surprised.

Edit:

I'm not going to push this up another star since I didn't get three stars of enjoyment out of it, but I do have to say that I have kept thinking about Fun Family days afterwards. When I describe it to people I do say that I didn't particularly like it, but I have to say that I didn't actually hate it either. I'd actually go so far as to say that I might actually flip through this again at some point in the future if I saw it at my library. I wouldn't own it, but I'd read at least part of it again.


2/5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

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