Saturday, September 17, 2016

Blue Monday: The Kids are Alright

For a number of reasons, I’ve had the blues lately. Some of it comes from anxieties at home and work, but a lot of it comes from stuff I see on the Internets. Not only is the real-world news crappy, horrible, ugly and depressing, but even the attitudes in fandoms that I once enjoyed being a part of are whiny, bitter, negative, ugly, crappy, horrible and depressing. I find myself feeling more stressed, and not enjoying things as much as I usually do. Then I read something like the new reissue of Chynna Clugston Flores’ Blue Monday, and I remember why I love comics, and how they can make me feel when they are at their best.

In a nutshell, maybe the easiest way to describe Blue Monday is that it’s Archie comics meets Japanese manga meets 80s nostalgia. Originally published in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, the comic tells the high school hijinks of Bleu Finnegan, a high fifteen year old girl in a small California town with blue hair, obsessed with British New Wave music, Buster Keaton, and her history teacher. Along with Bleu, we meet her friends: foul-mouthed Irish Clover Connelly, Erin O’Neill, and the boys, Alan and Victor, among others. 

The series first appeared as short stories in anthologies like Dark Horse Presents, Action Girl Comics, and Oni Double-Feature, before going on to appear as three mini-series and a series of one-shot stories. In many ways, Blue Monday, along with Jen Van Meter’s Hopeless Savages and the novels and comics of Jamie S. Rich, really defined the niche that Oni Press was filling at that time. They all featured the humorous daily lives of hip outsiders, with a strong emphasis on music. I imagine this represented Oni editor-in-chief Rich’s personal interests quite clearly, but it really gave the publisher an identity in my mind.

For the most part, Oni has moved on from this particular genre, although they did publish a new Hopeless Savages story last year. Fortunately, after almost seven years away from the characters, Chynna Clugston Flores is returning with a new miniseries next year. (Well, newish; the first issue was published back in 2009, but nothing appeared after that.) Even better, as a lead up to the return of the series, Image Comics is reprinting all the previous Blue Monday stories, in color for the first time, allowing a new generation to discover this fantastic series, and existing fans like myself a chance to experience it in a whole new way.

Like Bleu, I was an outsider kid in the 80s. It wasn’t a small town school, and I wasn't obsessed with British music, but I loved Doctor Who and comic books, and very few of my peers understood that. My friends understood that I was a fan of these things, but for the most part, that wasn’t how we related to each other. So I can certainly identify with Bleu on that level. And, like Bleu, while I wasn’t part of the in crowd, I had a group of friends who could count on me for support, and whose support I could count on.

In his introduction to this new reprint, comics writer Kieron Gillen talks about how influential Blue Monday was on him and his generation of comics creators. I think you can see that in his work, certainly in the books he does with Jamie McKelvie. (Perhaps less so in the pages of Darth Vader, which he also writes, but arguably that has a strong sense of humor that is also present in Blue Monday.) For the most part, though, I am a bit hard-pressed to think of anything else quite like Blue Monday, aside from the aforementioned Hopeless Savages and the works of Jamie Rich, and Mark Waid’s current work on Archie. I can't think of anything else with Blue Monday's particular mix of broad comedy and heart, and that's what makes it special.

The concerns of Bleu and her friends are the typical concerns of teenagers: school, romance, music, friendship, finding your place in the world. The stories may deal with small events, like Bleu trying to win tickets to see Adam Ant in concert, or hanging out with friends, or boy vs girl flirting/hazing, or crushing on a teacher, but they are imbued with all the importance such events hold when you are a teen. And the storytelling is so involving and dynamic, even reading about these kids just sitting around and talking becomes interesting.

The comedy ranges from the broad to subtle, from raunchy to sweet. This is a book that can veer from boys kidnapping the girls' beloved possessions and holding them for ransom to a scene of the boys sneaking their pubic hair onto the girls' hamburgers to Bleu and Clover hitching a ride to a show with a bunch of Vespa-riding Shriners to Bleu's frustrations dealing with an intractable box-office worker. And yet, somehow, it all feels of a piece.

I have missed Blue Monday so much, and I am so happy that it's back in print. This new edition is newly colored by Jordie Bellaire, and it honestly looks as if it was always meant to be in color. It's gorgeous. Like the original collection of these stories, the book includes the short stories that appeared in Action Girl Comics, Dark Horse Presents, and Oni Double Feature. These tend more towards the broader end of the comedy spectrum, but they feature quite a variety of styles, ranging from "How to Swear" lessons from Clover to a nice homage to Buster Keaton's film, Sherlock Jr.

I was so desperate for new high school tales by Chynna Clugston Flores that I almost purchased the Saved By the Bell comic that she illustrated. (I didn't; they might be perfectly good comics, and I'll admit that I loved watching Saved By the Bell, but ultimately, I gave it a pass.) Fortunately, we've got color reprints of the rest of Blue Monday to look forward to for now. And next year, we are promised new stories! 

I see a lot of bitching online asking why publishers aren't publishing good comics. My question in response is "Why aren't you buying good comics?" Because aside from the comics I've been enjoying from Marvel and DC, there are any number of great comics out there to read, that none of these whiners are talking about. Blue Monday is only one of them.

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