Saturday, February 13, 2010

Life Sucks



Life Sucks is a graphic novel about an unassertive emo loser vampire who works in a convenience store and impotently pines for the hot goth chick who regularly comes in.

I loved it.

I guess I'm not supposed to. It belongs to that whole vampire romance thing that's been running roughshod over the genre for the last few years. Our poor protagonist, convenience store drone Dave, suffers from Nice Guy Syndrome, and he often degenerates into self doubt and inaction. Both of these things would normally have me running for the hills, but I was completely engrossed in Life Sucks' story. The writing is strong enough to overcome the conventions of the genre, the characters are constantly engaging, and the story takes some surprising turns toward the end.



Life Sucks is the story of a vampire who gets a crush on a goth girl. The goth girl has a fascination with vampires, imagining them to be majestic lords of the night. Instead, they're bossy franchise owners, directionless slackers, or entitled douchebags. Both characters are longing for something, both are approaching it from different angles, and both have to deal with frustration and disappointment along the way.



There seems to be a basic framework for emo-guy-wants-girl stories: Emo pines for good-hearted, impossibly beautiful Girl. After much prodding from friends/co-workers/parole officers, Emo makes introduction to Girl. Girl opens up to Emo but constantly refers to Emo as a "true friend" or some such. Girl hooks up with Douchebag, who likely bullied Emo earlier. Emo mourns from afar. Girl complains to Emo about Douchebag and Emo lashes out. Girl is confused at Emo's reaction until it slowly dawns on her that Emo is carrying a torch. Life Sucks follows the framework pretty faithfully. It's got enough surprises to lift it out of the realm of cliche.



I liked Dave, the passive convenience-clerk vampire. Yeah, he spends the entire story being everyone's doormat but he never quite tilts over into entitled rage. Underneath the shitty job and constant capitulation to his vampire lord, we know that Dave is a decent guy.

The story does a lot with the seldom-explored relationship between a young vampire and his/her creator. Dave becomes a vampire after his Transylvanian boss decides he needs a night manager for his 24 hour convenience store. The vampires of Life Sucks are completely subservient to their masters, which dovetails nicely into Dave's hellish existence as a retail drone. Dave's master Radu, a former Transylvanian lord turned franchise owner, is a great character. I like the little expatriate vampire community he belongs to, a group of immigrants with old-world customs, huddled away in their little social clubs, trying to figure out how to navigate the new world.



The Girl in the tale is Rosa, the beautiful Latina goth girl. In romance stories told from a Emo guy's perspective, the women are often completely idealized and placed on a pedestal, their only personality traits being their unearthly beauty. Life Sucks made Rosa into an actual character. She's fiery and foolish, impatient and rash, charming and kind-hearted. The plot doesn't simply happen around her. Not all of her decisions are wise and some of the things she does is downright catastrophic, but she is a real, believable character. I also like the fact that they made her heritage and culture part of her character. Goths in most stories tend to be lily-white, modestly affluent kids. It's refreshing to see a new perspective on the community.



The story doesn't have a lot of actual horror elements to it. Most of the blood drinking is done off-stage and the vampire condition is portrayed as being fairly similar to humanity. The one really unsettling moment is when the Douchebag character, whose name currently escapes me, is hanging around in the surf with his vampire brides. As he's talking about his pursuit of Rosa, one of his brides becomes violently jealous. The Douchebag, impatient and bored with his bride, tears the woman's head off. It's a shocking moment and it grinds home the danger involved with vampire life. I especially liked that the other dude-bride has to applaud the Douchebag's behavior, lest he lose his own head to the Douchebag's rage.



Finally, I dug the fact that the story didn't end the way I expected it to. Not everyone gets what they want, some people wind up surprised when the things they wished for don't exactly turn out as expected, and there's a lot of real adult compromise in the story. It's not necessarily a bad thing and Life Sucks isn't a downer story, but I was pleasantly surprised by how far the creators were willing to turn my expectations on their head.



I really dug reading this. If you have a soft spot for vampire romance and you want something a little more quirky, go check out this graphic novel. It doesn't....um...suck.

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