Several weeks back, my working life took on a dramatic change. We got in a lot of new jobs to be done on behalf of our various clients, and my writing skills (such as they are) were suddenly in high demand.
On one level, it was a welcome occurrence: I’d always had purpose in my job, but now it was really being tested, a further expansion of my skills as a copywriter. But on another, it was taxing. I’d never really been tested or had as much to do before now, with such strict deadlines, and for the first time in a long time I was leaving work drained rather than wearied.
What I’m trying to say is that while I love my workplace, it’s also demanding more from me now than it ever has, and that work is hard. Without caution, it can consume you. And so Jesse Young’s new comic Perfect Day feels apposite. It’s a dream that really feels like it’ll resonate with an older audience with both work and family clawing at their ankles, each threatening to demolish the other if improperly balanced.
Jesse’s comics compendium Here We Go was one of the first things I backed on Kickstarter, and we had quite a lot of correspondence around the time I posted my thoughts on it. At the time I considered it a great showcase for Jesse’s writing abilities: looking back at it now, I respect his ability to tell succinct, self-contained stories in such a compelling way. I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed everything he did in it, but the vast majority of it was compelling enough for me to want more, and wish him every success as a comics creator going forward.
Jesse recently got back in touch with me to let me know about his new comic, and asked me to review it. Having read it a few times, it feels like a slightly different work compared to the stories in Here We Go. It’s calmer, more optimistic, more fantastical in some respects… and by a stroke of luck it’s available to read for free at Jesse’s website.
From start to finish, this is a world in which it’s clear nothing’s going to go wrong. Caspar Wijngaard’s art is incredibly appealing: the muted colour scheme and absence of other people lends the comic a surreal and dreamlike quality- something that syncs up nicely with the story Jesse’s trying to tell. The daytime scenes offer bright vistas that draw you in and offer that sense of possibility. In contrast the night scenes convey a real sense of ease, of satisfaction after a hard day’s fun. It’s all a little scratchy, and rough around the edges, but combined with scenes like trying on clothes and sharing a bedtime story it feels like a nice fit for the comic as a whole. It’s also a nice counterweight to the blunt impact font of the boss’ rude interruptions.
Indeed, like Uncle Buck this is a world where ambiguities are quietly sidelined, of heroes and villains. Where every boss is an asshole, where fathers are amazing and daughters are always little angels. A world without conflict? Yes, essentially. But it’s hard to condemn that when the central message of family is one that’s so heartwarming.
If I had one criticism of Perfect Day it’s that, when all’s said and done, its central premise can feel a little hard to swallow. It’s easy to see the father’s choice- to spend time with his daughter- as a noble calling, but considering he’s basically burning bridges with his employer in doing so it becomes a choice for him rather than the person he’s supposed to be caring for, potentially jeopardising his chances to raise his daughter properly. Parenthood is about sacrifice, not self-indulgence, and the father’s actions in Perfect Day arguably undermine his own calling.
It reminds me of the individual Here We Go comic Jesse wrote several months back. Both are about the relationship between a parent and child. But they differ both in their perspectives and the relationship between parent and child. In Here We Go the actions of the boy’s mother are less complex: while she might derive some satisfaction from spending time with her son their flights of fancy are still largely for his benefit over hers, and have no long-term negative impact. Perfect Day feels like it’s presenting a more straightforward scenario, but the motivations of the parent are more ambiguous, and arguably results in a more uncertain future. It’s kind of ironic that where Here We Go used fantastical elements to convey something honest, Perfect Day‘s mundanities feel far more implausible, and risk undermining the comic as a whole.
That’s what the pessimist, the realist, in me wants to say. But the optimist, the creative, takes a different approach and sees why Perfect Day‘s creative decisions are valuable.
Comics, as a medium, are so often about fantasies. They take complex scenarios and strip away the dead weight of reality to offer something hopeful and fulfilling. Comic characters like Captain Marvel and Bananaman show children stepping into the shoes of heroes, foiling evil and saving the day. But I’d argue Perfect Day is the latest in a long line of more mature stories: comics with an adult focus as opposed to a younger one. It captures that tedium of working life and offers a respite from it, however brief. Comics are so frequently a journey towards heroism, towards saving the day and fulfilling outlandish fantasies. What’s to say they can’t be a showcase for more mundane fantasies as well?
Ultimately, Perfect Day‘s ambiguities don’t really feel like the point. Like much of Jesse’s work it’s a neat little snapshot, a glimpse at what might be in a less complex world where things like job security aren’t an issue. In that sense, the comic gives a voice to an impulse many of us share, but can never embrace, and that little spark of comfort it ignites makes Perfect Day an enjoyable and worthwhile comic to read. Read Perfect Day and the rest of Jesse’s work at his website.