Books Are Pretty

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Homeless Channel, Volumes 1 & 2

When I was about thirteen or fourteen, I overheard my tennis coach, Mark, and his assistant, Tim, talking about a girl who had just stopped by the front desk at the tennis center to schedule a lesson.

“Do you think she’s pretty?” asked Mark after she left. “I can’t tell.”

“Mmm, I don’t know,” said Tim. “I think she just missed.”

I have no idea why this little snippet of conversation stuck around in my brain for 23 years, unless it stayed specifically to provide me with an apt analogy for what I feel about Matt Silady’s graphic serial novel The Homeless Channel.

Darcy, an up-and-coming eager young TV producer successfully pitches a television channel that “maintains both profitability and social responsibility,” featuring socially conscious programming in the day, and at night training the cameras on the homeless.

The network executives, seemingly not bounds to the same rules of reality as the rest of us, buy her pitch and put her at the helm of a new cable station, “The Homeless Channel,” to draw attention to the realities of life on the streets. The caveat is that they give her a minder in the form of a hot Suit, whose job is to keep an eye on the talent and make sure they don’t get too carried away. Once the premise has been established in Volume I, Volume II settles in and the plot starts to unfold into a sort of predictable, self-righteous preachiness honed to perfection by college students – the homeless people are a bit smug, seemingly beyond criticism, and most shockingly, seem content to volunteer their camera time rather than ask for a paycheck, Darcy herself seems to be less interested in helping the homeless and more interested in shaming people, (her own sister is homeless, apparently by choice rather than mental illness or lack of a loving family), and the Suit, despite the fact that he Just Doesn’t Get It, actually has a heart.

There’s two ways to review The Homeless Channel based on the storyline. It’s either a sanctimonious finger-wagging at the reader, or it’s a brilliant satire of characters that sanctimoniously finger-wag, and Silady is having a hell of a good time working that angle.

I wrestled similarly with Silady’s method of illustration. The story takes place in my hometown of Chicago, and when reading the first volume I was struck by his too-perfect shot of the Chicago skyline, and his flawless perspective of the high rise buildings hovering in the sky above the heads of the characters. Having spent many years standing on the same downtown streets in the panels, looking at my friends with the buildings behind them, I knew one thing: nobody can draw that well. As it turns out, Silady has an unusual method of illustration for his panels. He photoshops cut out pictures of local actors, who are playing the parts of his characters. Directed to convey specific emotions, Silady snaps the photograph, cuts out the actors, removes the color, and inks over the photograph in a long process he illustrates at his website.

While this is one of the most original ways of illustrating a graphic novel I’ve seen, using Photoshopped pictures gives the panels a certain loss of fluidity and sense of motion that more traditional drawings manage to convey. The result is a rather flat effect, causing the reader to feel somewhat removed from the story.

The first two chapters of The Homeless Channel raise a ton of questions – Why doesn’t Darcy offer her sister a spare bedroom or at least the couch to sleep on? If she’s so concerned with the homeless, why won’t she pay the homeless she puts on TV? Will that one homeless woman ever just lighten the hell up and take a damn shower? Whether these questions are answered in the upcoming volumes remains to be seen, but the one question that I wasn’t able to find an answer to in my brief Google research is also the most mysterious: Why can’t I find an online store to direct readers to for their own copies?

Seriously, that’s just weird.

Update! Matt Silady responds in the Comments Section:

I just wanted to take a moment to address the availability of the comic. The books that you reviewed were mini-comics (copied and stapled at home with lots of love.) I have only a couple left and if anyone is interested in scooping them up - send me an email!

The good news is the third and fourth chapters are almost finished and the entire series is being collected by a San Francisco comic publisher as soon as I get the letters done.

And there you have it - thanks, Matt!

First published at the Journal for the Lincoln Heights Literary Society

The Homeless Channel, Volumes 1 & 2
By Matt Silady
2006 by Sunday Morning Comics
Soft cover, saddle-stitched
37 pp.

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