Thursday , May 23 2024

Graphic Novel Review: ‘Self-Esteem and the End of the World’ by Luke Healy, from Drawn+Quarterly

Luke Healy

Self-Esteem and the End of the World by Luke Healy, published by Drawn and Quarterly, shows what the life of Luke Healy may have been, but was not, and what might have become of this other him. Like The Con Artists in which a “Luke Healy” character gives an introduction before putting on a mustache to act out the story as a play, the real Healy tinkers with narrative in his latest graphic novel. Self-Esteem proves to be a fictional biography, a unique subgenre with autobiographical inspiration and yet completely made-up events in a world nearly like our own.

Luke Healy

Healy’s art in Self-Esteem and the End of the World is very reminiscent of that from his previous works. His characters stand prominently in the frames, with bold, crisp lines. Their forms are straightforward with smooth shapes and clear details that make each unique, with telling characterization.

Each page is typically broken down into six panels, three in each of two columns. Within these forms, any change from the regularity makes for a stunning moment, whether it is a huge panel taking up the space of four or a carefully crafted angle showing the significance of the background.

Self-Esteem and the End of the World is told through chapters with a few interludes that provide more glances into the fictional Healy’s life. The storyline flows through major events, as when a classic novel leaps years ahead to show more aspects of character. The first appearance of “Luke Healy” is intimate, with a visit to his therapist, and then stressing to find some sense of self-accomplishment when his brother picks someone “more trustworthy” to be his best man. While the brother has a point, it causes Healy to spiral, as he feels he cannot compete with a successful physician who is also a nationally ranked athlete and shares in a long-term, committed relationship.

From there, Healy moves through life in a series of adventures: hosting a corporate-retreat murder mystery during a terrible storm; hiking in Greece while playing hooky from work; and dealing with the hollow politeness of Hollywood as they finally begin production on an adaptation of an old zine comic “Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales,” included as an appendix. Just as the actual Healy is clever in his story-crafting, the characters and dialogue throughout are packed with jabs and jokes for laugh-out-loud reading.

While the book may not seem like science fiction at first glance, it very much is. Like much good sci-fi, it examines the impact of changes, particularly technology, on our social norms. Some of the motifs are more fanciful, such as helpful mice who seek to aid Healy in his searching for self, or seagulls who comment on the decline of tourism. Other moments feature items that are commonplace today but would have seemed like science fiction just a few years ago, such as Healy’s prescription vaporizer for stress or streaming an engagement party with a smartphone camera.

As Self-Esteem and the End of the World continues past the year 2024, we see speculations on a flooded-out California and pressure-sensor smart-pillows tracking workers, which may yet come.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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