Lucky in Love Book 1: A Poor Man’s History

By George Chieffet & Stephen DeStefano (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-354-5

The medium of comics has a number of inbuilt advantages: it is quick, it is personal, the only limits are imagination and ability and – most importantly for this magical work – it is both magically modern and potently, subversively nostalgic. A book with pictures in it is one of our oldest and most effective technological creations, but it is also astoundingly instant and immediate.

In stunning black ink on gloriously evocative sepia pages (that startling shade which so terrifies comicbook collectors, presaging the imminent crumbling to dust of their beloved artifacts) comes a light-hearted, heavy-hitting barbed-edged faux autobiography that is a moving testament to the life of the average Joe.

Teacher, poet, author and playwright George Chieffet combines with the supremely talented cartoonist and animator Stephen DeStefano (when, oh when will DC release a ‘Mazing Man compilation volume… and while were at it where’s the Hero Hotline book too?) to delineate discrete episodes in the ordinary epic of a little American with the gift of the gab, growing up Italian in Hoboken, New Jersey – just a dreaming glance away from the neon allure of New York City.

After a sparkling dream-sequence prologue which introduces us to the modern “Lucky” Testaduda, the book opens with the first of three chapter-plays starring our diminutive narrator recollecting the key moments of his long life. ‘Lucky Fifteen’ finds the horny kid on the cusp of manhood in 1943, dreaming of girls and flying and getting into the war; spending his days at the movies, shooting the breeze with his pals and trying to get laid… but always the spectre of something bigger, better and far more dangerous than “the neighborhood” is looming…

‘Lucky at War’ sees the kid a lowly mechanic rather than glamorous pilot of his dreams, still hungry for sex but as always preferring to “talk the good fight” rather than get down and dirty. Mentoring. for which read “showing off” to even callower youths than he, a trip to the off-base cat-house as the war in the Pacific draws to a close goes uncomfortably awry. Moreover when a distant acquaintance is lost in a bomber Lucky worked on, his care-free life takes a melancholy turn…

Returning home in 1946 ‘Lucky Triumphant’ finds the young veteran having trouble readjusting. For the folks in Hoboken it’s a boom-time with sons returned and the promise of peace and prosperity, but the only work the de-mobbed mechanic can get is through shamefully exploiting the memory of a dead comrade he didn’t even really know…

In lots of ways Lucky’s world hasn’t changed at all since he was that eager, horny kid, but when a genuinely honest, victorious moment is soured because of unwanted familial nepotism Lucky begins to realise that just maybe he has

Drawn in a wild and captivating pastiche of Zoot-Suit era animated styles and frenetically Jitterbugging teen movies; marrying Milt Gross’ ‘He Done Her Wrong’ and ‘Count Screwloose’ to Milton Knight’s ‘Hugo’ and ‘Midnight the Rebel Skunk’ the bold, broadly Bigfoot cartooning style used imparts a seductive gaiety to the folksy monologue and completely disguises the subtle landmines this tale conceals in the narrative.

It looks fun and funny – and indeed it is – but the content delves far deeper than mere jolly japes of yesteryear. Lucky’s journey is full of heartbreak and injustice masked by the character’s innate bravado and self-delusion, thus the festive interpretation of fantasy and reality hits you below the conscious level like a blackjack in a velvet pillowcase.

Lucky in Love is utterly absorbing, purely cartoon entertainment, strictly for adults and immensely enjoyable. The concluding volume is scheduled for release in 2013 and it can’t come a second too soon for me…

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