Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

November 21, 2015

I Binge-Read Apartment 3-G This Weekend And Part Of Me Thought It Was Beautiful


Apartment 3-G ends today. A soap opera-strip about three media-informed female "types" inhabiting the same big-city apartment, Apartment 3-G was at its best a sturdy, stylish diversion brought to life by its devoted original artist turned full-on strip creator for years and years: the late Alex Kotzky. Kotzky's passing brought on a brief period when his son worked on the strip. In recent years it's been the veteran Frank Bolle providing art with Six Chix contributor Margaret Shulock writing.

There are only two times I've come to hear anything about Apartment 3-G, at least since the elder Kotzky's passing. The first is the story about Los Bros Hernandez at one point being offered the strip, which gets repeated every now and then. The second is that when Shulock came on board and as Bolle has grown older, the strip took on a kind of unaffected, straight-forward presentation of soap opera tropes that there was a devoted fanbase that liked to make fun of its stiffness and oddities. How much the creators, particuarly Shulock, played to this kind of presentation I've seen debated by grown people with college degrees.

As it has wound down since, say, the late summer, about a half dozen CR readers have been reading the strip and telling me I should. The last was Greg Kelly. I'd heard more generally that the strip had become even more odd and unsettling as it neared the end. Those reports were correct. I just read the strip from August 15 through this morning, and it makes very little sense. People stand around having story moments in no way supported by their physical surroundings or the way they're dressed. They say things not indicated by their facial expressions. The recap-Sunday strategy -- a traditional choice where the Sundays basically reiterate information in the daily for those clients that only take one or the other -- has come to play only slightly more jarring than a standard day-to-day narrative progression, such as they are. That's saying something. In terms of plot points or character resolution, the strip just sort of ends. And yet the ending is everything, soaking the previous weeks in a finality and dread that informs every installment.

You should read it, too. King Features' Comics Kingdom is a pay site, but you can start with the linked-to Milwaukee newspaper's presentation and move forward until the last couple of weeks at which point the calendar will have to be used, but you can do it I think without violating anyone's ownership of the material. I can't remember a strip ending like this one.

I liked reading the strips very much. It definitely has an unaffected, what-we-call-Lynchian quality where what you're seeing and what you're "hearing" as dialogue don't match. The limited sets and slightly faded color choices make it a bit nightmarish, almost like the world is collapsing comic book "crisis" style around these increasingly feckless characters. It's hard to believe there are more than a dozen "places" in the world these characters exist. Even the lettering gets in on the act, unrefined and delicate in a way that seems that much more at odds with a strip that had a real slickness to it even into recent memory: it's like catching a dapper uncle with an untucked shirt, or an elegant aunt with smeared lipstick. Frank Bolle is 91 years old; I think his work is fine -- this is more about the way the whole strip works together than any sort of craft issue. August into September is astonishing in the way information overlaps. The way the characters struggle to deal with almost rudimentary circumstance given the grand sweep of past soap opera plotlines seems like commentary on both older, exhausted comics and aging more generally. Whatever life the strip once had -- whatever minor role it played in the life of the fans it made happy -- seems like part of the last century in a way that hurts.

The experience of reading the last weeks of Apartment 3-G makes it seem as if, perhaps without meaning to, the creators involved and their syndicate conspired to present the first comic strip to spend its final days the way most of us will: off to one side, without much fanfare, clinging to places old and familiar, without much settled, echoes of our previous stories in the air. And then the next day we're gone.
posted 5:30 pm PST | Permalink

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