Indie Comics Autobiography = Simon Says
THE 120 DAYS OF SIMON (Top Shelf, April 2010 graphic novel) subtitled: A Graphic Odyssey Through Sweden. Written and illustrated by Simon Gardenfors. Black and White. Paperback edition, 416 pages. $14.95 www.topshelfcomix.com FOR MATURE READERS.
Consider the lifestyle of Simon Gardenfors first before you draw any conclusions about the lifestyles of modern Sweden. Gardenfors is a “self-advertised, couch-surfing freeloader”as described by Peter Bagge on the back-cover testimonials. Can the values of young adults and Swedish society be that free-wheeling? I’m a little amazed, and maybe a little jealous. (If I was a lot younger I’d be very jealous – and considering a move to an art community in Sweden).
Casual sex comes very easily to Simon, and he doesn’t mind sharing his bedroom experiences right out in the open in THE 120 DAYS OF SIMON. But the sharing doesn’t stop there. Gardenfors seems to have no qualms about sharing everything that occurred on his 4 month adventure, even if it is embarrassing or even reflects negatively on his character and actions.
Gardenfors is a cartoonist as well as a rapper in several acts. (He began performing with Las Palmas at the time 120 DAYS is written, but now records and performs with Far & Son). On a lengthy tour of Sweden with Las Palmas, he decided to write about his experiences in an auto-biographical comic. This happened in 2006, when he was 28 years old. To make it interesting and to provide material for his work, he laid down several ground rules: 1) During four months on the road, he cannot return home to his apartment, 2) He would try to stay as a guest at someone else’s home (friends, fans, casual acquaintances, and internet contacts), and 3) he cannot stay more than two nights in the same place. During his journey he crossed back and forth between 53 different cities/locations in the country of Sweden.
During his escapades he gets introduced to psychedelic drugs and other stimulants, drinks and goes clubbing a lot, eats exotic foods, gets beaten up by a gang and almost loses his diary/journal, gets threatened by the older brother of a much younger girl he slept with, gets paranoid with worry about it and contacts a violent motorcycle gang he befriended for protection, wets a bed and tries to hide it from his hosts, gets so stimulated playing footsies with a hot 15-year old that he retreats to the bathroom to relieve himself via masturbation - -- and reveals it all in the pages of 120 DAYS OF SIMON, sometimes even including the names and cities. (Even when he covers that up or uses a false name because his host objects to being included in the book - - it doesn’t matter because it seems that anyone in Sweden with a little detective work could figure out when and where he was.) The promotional copy refers to many people being angry at him - - but no mention of lawsuits, altercations, etc.
One of the funniest parts of this book occurs when a local television station asks permission to film some of his journey. Simon agrees, and then contacts a good friend who he asks to act as if he never met Simon before. The friend elaborates on the prank, and sets up a fake satanic worship ceremony during which Simon sacrifices his underwear to the gods. The film crew takes it serious and gets it all on video. When the book was published and they found out it was a hoax, did they take him to court? I couldn’t find out the answer to that.
There is also a bit of a love story in this novel. Just before Simon leaves on his months-long trip he begins to get serious about one of his girlfriends and thinks about confessing his love on his return. However, that doesn’t stop him from capitalizing on every sexual advance and opportunity that crosses his path. He stays in touch with his love interest by phone, and later realizes that he has lost both her and his opportunity for happiness. In a way, I sense that the story may really be about his search for identity and more purpose in his life. (He even shares some of his personal thoughts and fears regarding a permanent relationship).
All this makes for fascinating reading and you’ll find yourself finishing this book rather quickly. The format is black and white, two panels per page in a vertical arrangement. The art style is very blocky and minimalist - - sometimes just two characters and dialogue balloons. I later learned that his style is influenced and inspired by the art on candy boxes, packaging and 1930’s cartoons and 1980’s computer games. (He’s a hobbyist and sometimes speaker on “junk culture.”) In an interview he said that the two-panels-per-page style was intentional.
I wanted to find out more about Simon Gardenfors and starting searching the internet. Unfortunately, many of the websites I found were printed in Swedish so I couldn’t get any updated information on him. Just prior to the 2010 U.S. publication/translation by Top Shelf, he gave a telephone interview on the podcast website InkStuds.org (Vancouver, BC Canada) which was very illuminating.
To hear him tell it, he did everything “for art”. He was interested in doing an auto-biographical comic and “wanted more of a twist” to differentiate it from other works. At first he was conflicted about what to leave out of the book, but later overcame his self-consciousness. He deliberately decided to leave in the book “things that I felt ashamed of because it’s a funny read.”
The auto-biography also served as a catharsis for Gardenfors. In the interview, he calls the book “a little bit confessional” and goes on to explain that revealing yourself in a bad side is a way of seeking forgiveness and “when people find it funny, it also makes it okay.” So, in this way, he obtains absolution at the same time. I suspect he is also a bit of a prankster as he admits during the interview that “sometimes I annoy people”. He sounds just a little proud of that.
The interview also revealed that the name of the book is a purposeful link to the Marquis de Sade and is a pun on the title of his work - - 120 DAYS OF SODOM. After reading 120 DAYS OF SIMON you may end up not liking the author - - but that won’t stop you from enjoying his work.