So-o-o-o, um, yeah…
…let’s just say that The Fun Family by Benjamin Frisch is anything but fun. I’m warning you now. It is probably one of the most messed up comics this side of the works of Daniel Clowes or Kaz. Don’t blame me if you have nightmares, especially after viewing the final page.
This graphic novel is an investigation, albeit phantasmagorical, into the spiritual despair of our current age of ever-mounting anxiety and nostalgia. The tale begins with cartoonist Robert Fun, Frisch’s stand in for Bil Keane, and his family having lighthearted fun at Thanksgiving time. Their holiday meal is interrupted by an automated message from the hospital that Robert’s mother has died. It is this terrible news that cracks apart the family’s facade of harmony and seeming perfection.
Marsha Fun, Robert’s wife and mother of their four children, is clearly unhappy with Robert’s work and his detatchment from the family, which only gets worse after Grandma’s funeral. Eventually, Marsha decides that she can no longer sit on her simmering disappointments and asks for a divorce. The children – Robby, Molly, Mikey, and J.T. – are left to cope with the turmoil in their own ways.
Granted, the adults in this work are clearly self-absorbed which is a fault that many readers will not be able to get past. In a work that initially models a perfect family, it’s fracture is bound to lead to finger-pointing. That the parents should have stepped up will stick in the reader’s craw, no doubt. I would argue, though, that this is one of the many points that Frisch is making along the way, that family dysfunction often occurs at the expense of children.
Despite the trauma, The Fun Family is completely worth the ride. The story clearly works as a deconstruction of that old comic strip chestnut, The Family Circus, and other kitschy Americana. Warning number two, here there be creepy porcelain dolls, Big Eye art, and angel painting!
But more importantly, the work examines – breezily – different spiritual approaches found in modern times. The first is represented by Molly, who sees (or thinks she sees) Grandma in angel form, finding solace and direction through communication with the spirit. The second is Martha’s kooky path of ever-shifting psychological self-investigation of the Human Potential Movement variety, combined with New Age elements. The third is Robert’s own retreat into self-expression as a means of organizing his life, first as the creator of the comic strip and later of sacred paintings. The final path is that of Robbie, the oldest child, who works as a replacement artist on his dad’s strip in order to recreate a childhood tableau in which he felt secure.
It is arguable – and strongly so by the story’s ending – that this final approach is deeply troubling and damaging as a project. Life continues to move on, people continue to change, and such moments in time were perhaps not as real as they may have seemed at the time. To dedicate one’s life to pursuits that strip mine the past, to succumb to unironic nostalgia, leaves one continuously chasing a dream that can never be realized. This way opens one to a constant sense of disappointment, even despair.
Formats Available: Graphic Novel
Reviewed by Tony, Main Library
If you are interested in discussing this title or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group.
Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.
Upcoming meetings will take place on the following dates:
Monday, June 12, 2017 – Wonder Woman
**Note: The live-action movie Wonder Woman will be released on June 2, 2017**
Monday, July 10, 2017 – Marvel’s Spider-Heroes
*Note: The live-action movie Spider-Man: Homecoming will be released on July 5, 2017*
Monday, August 14, 2017 – Warren Publishing