Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lulu & Mitzy: Best Laid Plans

S. Eddy Bell's graphic novel was advertised as "Lucy and Ethel" working "in the world's oldest profession," and that's unfortunately too true. That far famed comedy team of early television were a couple of housefrau dilettantes who had misadventures whilst pretending to be something they were not. There were no real stakes, because you knew how every episode would end. They'd get caught by their husbands and chastised for sneaking about, but return next week for more of the same. What made Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance funny was their delivery, not their material. So here's Lulu and Mitzy, working bone tired sixty year old bits, without Lucy and Ethel's chops.

For much of the book's length, Mitzy is pretty worthless as a human being. She's ill-tempered, untrustworthy, lazy, callous, doesn't attract johns, thieving, and is often too anxious or high to perform. I don't like this character, and she rarely does anything outside of being caustic, but I've known her many times in real life. The humor is meant to come from Lulu, the "big" girl, always showing up her scrawny friend, and generally being too good to be true. Lulu is a smart, mannered, cultured, optimistic, tough, devoted, reliable, clean living woman with influential friends ready to help her at the drop of a hat. Yet, she's supposed to be an undocumented prostitute working a corner with Mitzy? Mitzy is the center of the book, and she's rubbish, so the book is rubbish.

About three quarters of the novel is episodic gag strip material, hardly reinvented by the inclusion of mildly salacious elements. It seems to assume you've never heard the one about Richard Gere and the gerbil. The presentation owes a great deal to Peter Bagge, but it's all second hand style and make believe, lacking the pathetic verisimilitude of a Buddy Bradley. Bell's take on prostitution seems not to have been researched so much as an internalization of cliché by osmosis. Maybe Bell swallowed too much "hooker with a heart of gold," and the book's the resultant stomach pump. The only time the material isn't obvious is when Bell's technique falters-- misplacing a dialogue balloon, or telegraphing a joke so forcefully the reader is confused about where the punchline was meant to be.

Bell's greatest sin is in the final quarter, when the narrative takes a "dark turn" that in truth propels the affair into "a very special episode." It's bad enough to fail as a cartoonist, but I draw the line at trying to shoehorn artistic pretension or... gag... "poignancy." Let's not, shall we?

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