It takes a lot of balls to write an autobiographical comic, and the indie comics scene is populated with plenty of authors and artists who can execute this sensitive task with grace, skill and humility, keeping their bounteous balls in check. Simon Gärdenfors is not one of these people.
Gärdenfors is, apparently, a rapper of some repute in Sweden. I don’t know what kind of reputation that carries with it, but I figure it’s something like being the best swimmer in the kiddie pool, all pale and wriggly. He also fancies himself an artist, though his output doesn’t extend that far beyond an awkward mockery of Steamboat Willie-era animation and geometric black and white drawings that really don’t do anything special.
The 120 Days of Simon chronicles Gärdenfors’ four-month journey across the couches of Sweden during a self-imposed exile from his apartment. While he attempts to sell this as an epic artistic endeavor, it’s fairly transparent that his interest genuinely lies in free food, free lodging, and as much drugs and sex as people will readily hand out to him. Sweden is generous on all counts, and Gärdenfors is a glutton. While none of his questionable activities seem to be illegal in Sweden, the idea of a 30-year-old guest engaging in sexual activity with his host’s 16-year-old daughter doesn’t sit well on a moral level.
Gärdenfors seems to be making an grandiose effort to prove that he’s a remorseless badass and has a lot of sex with a lot of strangers, but really has a heart of gold buried somewhere in his affected “artiste” exterior. Jeffrey Brown is likely the premier autobiographical comic artist of our time; Gärdenfors presents an inevitable, withered comparison to Brown’s genuine pathos and intimate admissions. If you really need to prove that your uncomfortable rap music and irritating beats equate to you being some kind of Swedish megastud, start a blog and save a tree. Over 2000 MySpace fans would surely follow.
Sweden, where this sordid non-tale takes place, would seem to be able to provide an infinite canvas which might set 120 Days apart from the miasma of similar comics. Gärdenfors makes nothing of any of this. Backgrounds don’t exist, replaced by flat, black inks, which seems to betray a solipsist view of the world, since the only culture that the author cares about is that which he can stick it in or snort. We’re left with a very ugly impression of Sweden by the end of 120 Days—something that few travelogue comics have conveyed. Lucy Knisley’s France is a magical land of deliciousness. Gärdenfors’ Sweden is a geographical anus.
The persona that Gärdenfors displays in 120 Days is repugnant. He’s a self-indulgent bastard whose first thoughts upon winning a $40,000 arts grant lean towards buying “more expensive meth.” This “edgy” presentation of sex and drugs was old a decade ago, but Gärdenfors hasn’t caught on yet, stuck in a state of a perpetual man-childhood. He can’t get through his sexual dysfunctions or stop wetting his guests’ couches. He relates all of this with an emotionless pride, or a “you-had-to-be-there” kind of smirk—not realizing that we weren’t actually there and don’t give a fuck.
I don’t know who Gärdenfors’ audience is supposed to be, but he has admitted to creating controversy in order to boost sales. He betrays most of his work’s subjects by revealing far too much about their encounters, and there’s nothing here to charm the uninvested members of the audience. He doesn’t experience any lasting revelations, his levels of arrogance are astronomical and his self-awareness wouldn’t fill a teaspoon, and over 400 pages of his blabbering, round head aren’t a rewarding reading experience. Most readers would be glad that his life is threatened at least once, and that he experiences at least one beatdown at the hands of unruly teenagers.
Maybe it’s about going out and living life and having an adventure. This would be the most obvious intent, but it couldn’t be more distant from the result. I’d stay at home just to avoid catching whatever unique brand of herpes Gärdenfors will inevitably have named after him.
I’d normally venture that Gärdenfors’ eventual lonely return to his bug-infested apartment was some kind of metaphor for the unfulfilling sex-and-substance romp of the preceding four months, but that would be giving the guy a lot of credit which he clearly doesn’t deserve. For four months of unique experiences, his recollections are sparse and dismissive, but to his credit, the book is called The 120 Days of Simon. It’s just unfortunate that Simon is unworthy of so much attention.