Review: We Are Eltingville

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Cover by Dorkin
Cover by Dorkin
Cover by Dorkin

The Eltingville Club #2

Story & Art: Evan Dorkin

Colors & Computer Chops: Sarah Dyer

Cover: Evan Dorkin

Genre: Humor

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

 

 

 

 

By Matthew Jent

“Even dead I’m afraid I’ll lie dreaming of Eltingville.”

Evan Dorkin brings the tale of four mean-spirited, socially-incapable, pop-culture-obsessives to an end. The earliest Eltingville stories can be found in Dork #6, including the Eisner-winning “Bring Me the Head of Boba Fett!” Published in 1998 by SLG (still called Slave Labor Graphics at the time), the Eltingville Club is made up of four fanboys who represent, not only the four corners of popular nerdom, but the most reprehensible personality traits of fandom at large.

There’s Bill, Secretary of Comic Books, quick to anger. Josh, Secretary of Science-Fiction, condescending know-it-all. Pete, Secretary of Horror, raving misogynist. Jerry, Secretary of Fantasy/Gaming, naïve and eager to please his more aggressive friends.

From the beginning, the Eltingiville Comic-Book-Science-Fiction-Fantasy-Horror-and-Role-Playing Club have seemed on the verge of self-destruction. “Bring Me the Head of Boba Fett!” circles around Bill and Josh’s attempts to own the same 12-inch Kenner Boba Fett figure, tearing their friendship apart in the process. Of course, their increasingly volatile attempts to out-Fett each other (spoiler alert for an almost-twenty-year-old-comics-story) lead to Boba Fett’s destruction, with the comic shop clerk declaring “You both broke it, you both bought it.”

Josh winds up with the body, Bill with the head. It’s a perverse Judgment of Solomon, and the tone for all other Eltingville stories is set: no one wins, the fellowship will always and forever split asunder, but the club will never truly die. On the very next page the Eltingville Club is off on another adventure of cynicism and self-loathing.

The Eltingville Club #2 features the issue-length story, “Lo, There Shall Be an Epilogue!” In the previous issue, the club broke up — again — this time for good — again! — and we’ve jumped ahead ten years to that mecca of pop culture, that nerd prom of nerd proms: San Diego Comic Con.

eltclub2p2 That’s Bill in the last panel, seemingly one of the few attendees enjoying the actual comic books at Comic Con. He is, of course, no golden-hearted martyr — as a dealer lectures another fan about the joys of bestiality comics (“Well, get interested! Do you realize this is only one of six copies known to exist that isn’t damaged, faded, or spunk-encrusted?”), Bill smugly shoplifts a Silver Age Flash.

There’s little beauty in fan culture as Dorkin satirizes it in Eltingville. Only scum, villainy, and wretched hives thereof.

As every Eltingville outing over the past nearly-20-years has resulted in the question, “Is this the end of the Eltingville Comic-Book-Science-Fiction-Fantasy-Horror-and-Role-Playing Club?”, only to pick up with the club’s reunion in the next installment, this issue concerns the (final?!) gathering of the group. Years have passed and they’re all adults now, but none have escaped the scaly grasp of their hobbies/obsessions.

I won’t go into the details of what every club member is up to in the present day — finding out the details is a big part of the fun — but each of their futures feels inevitably pleasing. The Eltingville reunion is page after page of a grotesquely beautiful mirror. These guys do not like each other. I’m not even sure if they like the things they are at Comic Con to experience — the comics, the movies, the collectibles — but they can’t help but be there, sitting around a table, denouncing genre movie remakes they know they’ll go see anyway, second-guessing one another’s career paths, and, in a particularly difficult scene to read (but also one that is so true-to-life that it hurts), ruthlessly critiquing every female cosplayer in their eyeline.

When they’re forced to reckon with one of the women of Comic Con as an actual, actualized human being — nope, they don’t learn any lessons. They insult her, and each other — they shame her, and each other — by spewing vile thoughts and gross accusations at her about her intentions and her “real” “commitment” to their culture. When she refers to the Ghostbusters car as “the Ghostbusters car” and not “Ecto-1,” she’s outed herself — as far as their concerned — as a fake geek girl. When she asks, in the face of their nonstop arguing and self-loathing, “So, were you guys ever actually friends?”, they accuse her of being a “cultural immigrant” invading their territory.

Eltingville is a horrible, ugly fanboy rampage that turns over the rock that is comics culture and asks us to look at it — look at what we are.

After the issue’s release last week, Evan Dorkin tweeted, “The stake’s been hammered in, the monster is dead.” Reading The Eltingville Club #2 is not always pleasant, in the way that it’s intended to not always be pleasant. I can only imagine that making this issue — living with these characters in his head — was also not always pleasant. In a recent interview with Paste, Dorkin said Eltingville was “an ugly mirror,” and that…

…the situation is, as I’m satirizing the worst aspects of fandom as I see it, fandom has gotten worse. I’m 50-years-old; I’ve been doing this for decades, and I was a fan before that. I worked in a comic store for six years, off and on. It’s probably social media. You knew there were complete assholes out there — not just idiots, not just geeks, not just harmless doofuses like Revenge of the Nerds, who had social skill problems — but actually mean people, real bastards. Some of whom end up in the industry and make life miserable for other fans later on, who have the ability to break windows in fans’ houses by killing off characters and acting like a jerk and getting paid for it. Comics, especially — this is where you get your employees. They basically come from fandom. There’s not a lot of money, and there’s not a lot of prestige.

One club member, in particular, has a plan to break in to comics and “establish my so-called shitty fan-fic as canon.” His plan to get into the industry is essentially a one-paragraph critique of comics journalism:

“I reviewed, I interviewed, I cut and pasted PR. And I got to know people, got to write for other sites… I deal with pros and publishers. And, y’know, you basically partner up, help out, push certain things. I mean, it’s like you practically work for them already!”

You might could argue that it’s a critique of the history of comics journalism, as the career path from reader to fan to journalist to pro stretches back decades (and can, to be sure, also have positive results — Roy Thomas might be the prototype fan-to-pro story of the Silver Age, and I wouldn’t trade my Silver Age Conans for nothin’), but I can personally attest that it stings more than a little to read Eltingville and wonder … is Eltingville me?

 

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Is this a proper review? Can there be a proper review of a single-issue comic book that makes you sit back, exhale decades of guilt-inducing fan enthusiasm, and ask yourself, have I shoveled the pit in which I will suffocate?

It’s not wrong to ask the question. It’s good to look in the mirror and wonder, from time to time, if you’re on the right track. Maybe that’s Midwestern shame and self-loathing talking? All I know is that I read this comic book two weeks ago, and it’s been sitting on my shoulders ever since. I can’t remember the last time a comic book filled me with so much self-doubt and ennui, and I am super into that.

The Eltingville Club #2 is an incredibly personal, often hilarious, occasionally off-putting piece of sequential art. It’s funny, it’s ugly, it’s beautiful. The words and the pictures are full of nuance, truth, beauty, and throwbacks (“You could make a TV show about us and the crazy shit we pulled.” “Yeah, like that would last more than one episode.”).

And, at least for now, it is the end of the Eltingiville Comic-Book-Science-Fiction-Fantasy-Horror-and-Role-Playing Club.

But Eltingville can never die. Eltingville lives within us all, inside of our dark hearts.

3 COMMENTS

  1. “Eltingville is a horrible, ugly fanboy rampage that turns over the rock that is comics culture and asks us to look at it — look at what we are.”

    The lack of comments here might indicate a lot of fans don’t want to look at what they are.

    Dorkin’s comment: “as I see it, fandom has gotten worse. … It’s probably social media. You knew there were complete assholes out there — not just idiots, not just geeks, not just harmless doofuses like Revenge of the Nerds, who had social skill problems — but actually mean people, real bastards.”

    I agree that social media has brought out a lot of anger and nastiness that was probably always there. I don’t know if these people are the majority, but they sure know how to dominate chat boards. Comic sites generally aren’t as awful as video game sites, and I’m unaware of a comics equivalent of 4chan.

    But a lot of them are pretty bad, especially the ones dominated by middle-aged men who are still going to the comic shop to buy superhero pamphlets. These guys grew up feeling persecuted for reading funny books, and they unleash their resentment online. It ain’t pretty.

  2. I’ve encountered more personal attacks and more confrontational belligerence on comic-book sites (though not on this one) than I have on any of the movie-buff sites I frequent. The people I’ve clashed with on comic sites have some traits in common:

    1. They’re male.

    2. They’re over 40.

    3. They’re hopelessly addicted to superhero comics, to the exclusion of all other kinds of comics. They might have “Love and Rockets” and “Terry and the Pirates” and EC volumes on their shelves (for “collecting purposes”), but they won’t read them because they’re not part of the Marvel or DC universes. And the only movies they’ll pay to see in theaters are superhero movies — though they’ll occasionally make exceptions for Star Trek and Star Wars movies.

    I’ve come to suspect that total immersion in superheroes past a certain age can warp personalities. Dorkin describes the idiots who send death threats to comic-book writers for killing off fictional characters (all of whom are going to return). That’s the sickness at its worst.

    I still love comics, but I can do without most fans.

  3. Evan Dorkin – one of those “tortured geniuses” who’s problem is that they haven’t actually been tortured nearly enough.

Comments are closed.