The Con Artists by Luke Healy from Drawn+Quarterly seems like the setup for a heist story, and in a way it is. Rather than sneaking past security to pull something from a vault, however, the tale shows the characters navigating our own senses of security and peeking into the vaults we all have deep inside of us, where things are hidden but never totally forgotten. Its tagline calls The Con Artists the “quintessentially millennial tale about friendship and the quest for self-actualization.” The look into the first generation totally immersed in digital technology proves fascinating since it makes even our social and psychological worlds less trustworthy.
The Con Artists begins with a prologue by Luke Healy reading the classic “The characters depicted in this book are entirely fictional. Any similarities to real people or events are purely coincidental” disclaimer. Through the reading, the “Luke Healy” character puts on a mustache and changes his shirt, becoming the main character.
As the story begins, the form shifts from four regular panels per page to six. This creates a delineation while at the same time showing the inherent connection between creator and work, revealing a basic “con” of storytelling where we all share the same lie, art to tell truths more effectively than analytical words could.
The plot of The Con Artists follows Frank, a younger millennial working to make it as a standup comedian in London. His material is largely autobiographical, following the lead of plenty of other comics who find inspiration from the ridiculousness of their experiences.
He has big plans with fellow comic Ro to maximize their gig schedules leading up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Everything is interrupted when Frank receives a troubling phone call: his longtime, though frequently out of touch, friend Giorgio has broken his arm being hit by a bus. Frank puts his life on hold to help Giorgio, a kind act he presumes will be for just a few days, though it turns into practically an occupation.
Giorgio is the friend that seems to have everything. He has charisma, his flat is filled with expensive stuff, and he always seems to have an adventure going on. As Frank lives with Giorgio, helping to the point he’s a manservant, Giorgio’s reality proves to be much deeper and darker than it appearance on Instagram.
Frank even discovers Giorgio’s money-making scheme: ordering things online with the address of an empty flat, signing a fake name for delivery before claiming it never arrived, and then getting a refund while he resells the item online. Giorgio even brags about his anti-capitalist act of protest and tries to draw Frank in to sign for packages when he cannot be there. Frank begins to wonder how far Giorgio’s cons really go.
Through it all, Frank reflects on his own long con. He stands up and tells his own life stories to make people laugh, but the laughter haunts him while his anxiety whispers, “This is such a stupid bit. Everyone hates it. Everyone hates you.” Frank is willfully anti-social yet lonely, a paradox that haunts the millennial generation, well reflected in The Con Artists.