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Garage Band

Written and illustrated by Gipi
First Second
128 pages, $16.95
ISBN: 1596432063


Squint and you could see it being somewhere to build a dream. Sequence from Garage Band, ©2005 Gipi, English translation ©2007 First Second.


In the sleepy little college town of Tempe, Arizona, there used to be a house called the Church of the Black Goat. It really used to be a church; not some ornate Catholic building, but one of those long, thin buildings where Baptist services are held. It hadn't been an actual church in a long time, of course. By the time it was the Church of the Black Goat, it was a party house run by neo-SubGeniuses, with beer-stained carpeting, mock-1950s advertising art stenciled all over the interior walls and a crude stage set up in the front. On weekends, keggers would be held, two or three bands would play and all sorts of interesting craziness took place, inevitably resulting in the cops showing up around 11PM or so to shut it all down. During the week, the space was open for bands to rehearse.

I think it's remotely possible that some version or other of the Gin Blossoms might have played there once, but otherwise, none of the bands that made use of the Goat's stage ever made it big. That wasn't the point. The Goat was a place where you could rock out in front of a beer-soaked audience without having to deal with union rules or unscrupulous clubowners. It wasn't a paying gig, but for some bands it was where you played your first shows without pressure, enjoy the dream for a while and work up the nerve to approach actual bars about playing for pay. It was also a fun place to hang out.


The only way you could convince yourself that such a place might ever impress a girl is with a guitar in your hand. Sequence from Garage Band, ©2005 Gipi, English translation ©2007 First Second.


The band in Gipi's Garage Band never even makes it in front of an audience, at least not during the time depicted in its pages, but the satisfaction of having a place to play, learn to work with other musicians and be able to fuck up without consequences definitely feels authentic. The garage in question is a vermin-infested overgrown shed, stuffed with detritus that needs to be cleared out or at least pushed over into a corner so the amps and drumkit can be spread out. The band in question is a bunch of young-adult wastrels whose dreams of rock stardom are really the only dreams available to them at the moment. And the book in question is about the sheer joy of hanging out and trying to build something that supercedes the sum of its parts.

Giuliano's dad is letting him and his bandmates use the garage, and it's the first chance they've really had to give free rein to their musical ambitions. The band is a ragtag bunch; there's Alex, the idiot drummer with an inchoate fascination for Nazi imagery; there's Stefano, the neighborhood troublemaker, whose endless cynicism makes him both perfect for the role of egotistical lead singer and an endless source of strife and argument; there's Alberto, whose common-sense attitude helps hold the group together; and there's Giuliano himself, who just wants to have a dream and share it with his girlfriend.


Errr... not that she'll actually be impressed or anything. Sequence from Garage Band, ©2005 Gipi, English translation ©2007 First Second.


Gipi's art is perfectly suited to presenting such an atmosphere, sketchy and expressive, with watercolors providing just enough color to evoke a sense of place but not so rich as to kill the sense of a weather-beaten small-town dream. The characters are lanky and jagged, like Jamie Hewlett's Gorrilaz as re-interpreted by Carlos Muñoz — personable enough that a scene on the beach can convey a sense of underlying sensualism, despite the fact that nobody here would ever be mistaken for pretty.

There's a plot to this story — something about stolen equipment — but it almost feels beside the point. Garage Band is more about the evocation of atmosphere than about where the band is going. Gipi has a firm sense of composition and pacing, and he uses it to depict the hazy sense of forever by which post-adolescents still measure time, too inexperienced to see the extent to which life is passing them by, or perhaps just not really giving a shit to begin with. You never get the impression that Giuliano and his bandmates are ever really going anywhere, but again, that's not the point. A garage is a place where you nurture dreams that might happen someday. In the meantime, there's rehearsal, and getting drunk on possibilities. It's temporary — hey, the Goat's been gone for years now, too — but you don't have to tell yourself that while it's happening. It's one last moment before you have to grow up and abandon such foolish dreams, and Gipi captures that moment wonderfully.


This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.


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