Not for Everyone

Peepshow #14


Peepshow is the creation of writer/artist Joe Matt. This new issue is $4.95, from Drawn & Quarterly, in black and white and red. It’s the first new issue since early 2002, and the conclusion to a four-part storyline that has been running since 1998. And gosh, new issues of this, Dork, a new Brendan McCarthy comic, Lost Girls... it's like the year of stuff showing up!

Peepshow is an autobiographical comic; it’s one of the more renowned autobiographical comics. Matt is often grouped in with his friends Chester Brown and Seth, two other cartoonists known for various flavors of autobiography, though Brown has gone into examinations of history in recent years, and Seth has focused much on fiction and graphic design. Matt, however, continues to offer ferocious autobiography, the type to make folks blink.

Let me explain.

The issue starts with Matt furiously masturbating to one of his homemade porno tape edits, removing the awful faces of all male participants and carefully looping crucial bits of action to match his bodily ebb and flow. It is his twentieth masturbation session of the day.

Heh... I’m such a stud...”

He falls asleep for a bit, and awakes with a headache. He slept on his cumrag again; it’s tour of duty has been a hard one. He decides to enlist a new recruit, an old Robert Crumb t-shirt his ex-girlfriend (from earlier in Peepshow chronology) bought him. This leads to waves of self-loathing; Matt understands that he’s pretty much entirely a porno addict. He winds up masturbating again.

(all of the above material was previewed in McSweeney’s #13, in case you’ve seen it)

Matt lays on his bed, reflecting on the narcotic pleasure of masturbation.

If I’m addicted to anything, it’s this feeling of complete detachment from my emotions. It’s the perfect escape from my miserable, lonely existence. It’s pleasurable... it’s cheap... and it’s not physically harmful. Unfortunately, it eats up all of my time and energy and leaves too drained to ever work on my stupid comic book.”

Matt then gets the urge to work on his comic, but he only winds up revising sequences he’s already completed. He gets angry and leaves to urinate in a bottle (he doesn’t have his own bathroom, and if he keeps two bottles, he only has to dump them out half the time!). At that point, D&Q publisher Chris Oliveros phones, asking where the new Peepshow is. Matt gets angry, and reminds Oliveros that D&Q owes him thousands of dollars in unpaid royalties (the story taking place around D&Q financial troubles - a note in the back of the issue reveals that all monies have since been paid). Still, the relationship between the two men seems sturdy. Oliveros offers Matt $500, and Matt promises not to spend it on pornography.

Which leads to another round of ‘should I or not’ with a nice Jenna Haze tape. I should mention here in the middle of my synopsis that Matt is spookily good at portraying how external elements in his environment manage to twist themselves in his mind toward pornography. Money, girlfriends - anything becomes fodder to push him toward the bliss of addiction. Matt heads downstairs in his building to take a shower, and runs into his elderly landlady. This prompts revulsion and sexual thoughts in the shower, as if he cannot help but insert anything into a porno context.

He finishes his shower, and the landlady accuses him of pissing in the sink. She’s right, but Matt slips away, absorbed with paranoia as to how she figured it out. He gets distracted back in his room looking at old Gasoline Alley strips and Sundays, detailing his obsessively careful archiving process and noting that the strip has never been properly collected. This leads to more self-loathing about his own work, which pales in comparisons to the great masters like Frank King. Matt then proceeds to go through each of the collections (both of ‘em) of the current incarnation of the Peepshow series, viciously critiquing them and pointing out various fabrications, omissions, and sequences that turned out the way they did because he didn’t want to bother with drawing crowds and stuff, ending with a nasty excoriation of the very storyline rushing toward conclusion before the reader.

It’s not even a story... just page after page of me whining about porn. It’s masturbation in comic form...”

But Matt becomes distracted yet again, fist by a neighbor who’s been annoying him (and he her, we can infer), then by his beloved kitty Maude. But Maudie-Maude is sick with diarrhea, and she shits all over Matt as he picks her up. The issue (and the story at large) ends with the author covered in shit and unable to clean himself because the bathroom is occupied.


You might be asking yourself right now, “Why would I ever bother reading something like this?” Or maybe you’ve already hustled out to get a copy - I don’t really know. In many ways, Peepshow is a perfect stereotype. Unbelievably, there are still certain folks out there today who honestly seem to believe that the majority of English-language independent comics outside of the fantasy/sci-fi/superhero action genres are nothing but sorry men and women whining about their awful states ad nauseam. I’ll wager that the idea of ‘independent comics’ in the heads of such folks resembles, superficially, a recent issue of Peepshow (however much ‘recent’ can ever apply).

But Joe Matt has a special ability to provide weirdly compelling comics, no matter how alternately repellant and mundane his subject matter might seem to be. For one thing, this issue is a small master class in how to keep a book moving visually, even though much of it is an extended monologue by a single character. This is not a Xerox jamboree - Matt is quite graceful in switching up his viewpoints and angles to keep things fresh, and his visual storytelling is superb - be sure to check out how smoothly he manages to slip into and out of the t-shirt flashback by matching his own posture to his past self’s. He’s also a fine cartoonist of characters, his expressions and bodily motions top-notch.

And beyond that, Matt does have a little more to offer. There’s the voyeuristic interest in observing a man lower than most - the bloody title is Peepshow, after all. He understands that autobiography is still storytelling (even as he additionally admits that he’s made stuff up in the past), and he quite smartly charts the Joe Matt character’s obsession and addiction - as I’ve mentioned above, everything in his environment manages to relate back to his addiction, and the comic as a whole emerges as a portrait of self-defeating rationalizations for staying hooked to something. It also emphasizes the mundane details of being hooked to something; little paranoias, the give and take of shame, the unquestionable joy of indulgence; it’s all gratifyingly low-key, and I think all the more absorbing for its simulation of everyone’s life, lightly soured with addiction. It’s not meth, it’s masturbation, which a whole lot of people do - that just ups the interest for me.

Oh, it’s also funny, and stuffed with a cheery sense of irony - obviously, a proper collection of Gasoline Alley strips has come out since the time period of this story, from D&Q itself, no less. Matt notes in the letters section (yep, still one of those) that after the events of the storyline he moved to Los Angeles, and the next story will be about, one presumes among other things, his attempts to get Peepshow made into an animated series at HBO. Always, the mirror is on himself.

Some readers will doubtlessly find this all to be either flat-out repugnant or impossibly self-indulgent, no matter how much skill goes into the making. That’s fine; not every style appeals to every reader. But the blase and grotesque events detailed above are made lively with a sick glow under Matt’s pen, and I expect he’s still, after nearly half a decade of non-production, enough of a vivid storyteller and archivist that many will wish he’d speed up the process rather than snake back into his room and television and locked door.