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Diary Comics 3
posted June 18, 2012
Koyama Press, mini-comic, 80 pages, 2012, $10
This is the latest in Dustin Harbin's series of autobiographical comics, each volume appearing from Koyama Press and each, I believe, covering a portion of the year 2010; I appeared in a previous volume while attending that year's Heroes Con. Harbin has an appealing art style that lends itself to this kind of work: he's good at flattering caricature, he draws himself in a visually interesting but not over-attractive way, and he can render for at least a pass-over's worth of time just about anything such an assignment requires. His work looks good at the size it's reproduced here, which isn't that much smaller than the originals, I think. He's also a quality letterer in a way that conveys voice, or at least provides a reliable visual key to hearing same. Most of the gags, such as they are, work; Harbin has a kind heart and it's unlikely a whole lot of people would dispute his gentle portrayals of them.
As much as I'm happy to have this attractive volume -- I even own a piece of original art from a previous book -- I do think the work here proves fairly unsettled. Harbin's comics have yet to achieve the visual force both overt and understated that cartoonists like James Kochalka and Jesse Reklaw have brought to similar projects. The comics here also feel unserious in a way, dominated by what seems like Harbin's desire to do appealing comics rather than simply presenting comics according to a more rigorous standard that may be appealing or not. We see his girlfriend a lot in these comics and hear about some of Harbin's fears and hopes regarding that relationship; I don't think we get close to receiving a real insight into her or how Harbin really sees her or what makes that relationship work, even as a unique life experience. The result, as odd as this may sound, is a comic about a life that feels like it's being lived for the sake of presenting amusing comics. The final major sequence in New York City plays to all of Harbin's weaknesses and only his surface strengths; its evocation of community in the broadest sense feels less like insight hard-won and more like the middle segment of a Very Special Episode. I think there's stronger work to come.