In “Defiling the Literati,” Schumacher puts together a blistering set of critical comics that examine an ever-fraying political reality, pop culture, pretension and pedantry in equal measure. What makes them tick, however, is the personal narrative throughout.
Creator: Alex Schumacher
“Defiling the Literati” covers a lot of ground. From individual stories published in various places to a selection of “Mr. Butterchips,” one of Schumacher’s weekly webcomics, there’s a swath of work to examine. There’s a one-panel comic and several multi-page pieces, but the majority of entries are one to two pages long, and Schumacher uses this brevity to go for the jugular.
At once deeply acerbic toward his protagonists as well as the outside world, Schumacher crafts a collection designed to comment. Whether it’s Trump coming face-to-face with the Justice League or a single page of Mr. Butterchips railing against the system (and usually passing out immediately after,) Schumacher uses the editorial format well. The stories are concise, evocative and toy with the line between liberal evangelism and social commentary. Schumacher always lands on the side of commentary, however, because no one escapes the lens – Mr. Butterchips least of all.
Thematically, Schumacher’s examining a society not just frayed at the edges, but torn to shreds. It’s often difficult to process information in this digital age, and with an ever-increasing swath of apps, platforms and ways to narrate and craft our identities online comes the searing truth of our insignificance. It’s one thing to repeat the adages of being kind to one another, of treasuring our immediate connections, but it’s also easy to quickly lose oneself in the endless shuffle of the millions of other people with an opinion and the ability to express it. On a certain level, none of us matter, and how we process and engage with that is a singular experience.
“Defiling the Literati” is full of searing political critique, but the stories that hit home are the more personal narratives. Schumacher places these in the collection with care, but each piece is illustrated with a crisp and economical understanding of cartooning and how to maximize limited space. Schumacher uses panel borders judiciously as well, and often breaks the gutter both horizontally and vertically to maximum effect. This gives each page a richness and 3-D quality that can only exist in comics. Schumacher also doesn’t overload the page with too much action or too many sound effects, which helps the black and white art retain its clarity. Lettering is similarly expressive but economical. The whole visual package works well together because it’s imagined and executed by a competent cartoonist.
Overall, “Defiling the Literati” works well as a collection of work and an anthology of high-quality pieces. Schumacher’s work carries an acidic bitterness born not of cynicism, but frustrated optimism, and the effect is inspirational as well as entertaining in its own right.
If the world’s going to hell, the least we can do is make art about it.
The Verdict: 9/10 – “Defiling the Literati” is an impactful collection of critical work imagined and executed with a great deal of skill.