Life Sucks Paperback – 6 Jun 2008
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Review in 29th January 2008 School Library Journal BlogI don't normally review teen. But YA good graphic novels get a pass.A person could be forgiven for getting tired of vampires. Is it fair to say that they've been "done"? From the Twilight series to Buffy to whatever vampire-related dreck we see next you sometimes just wanna grab the creators and say, "ALL RIGHT! FINE! I GET IT! IT'S A METAPHOR! CAN WE MOVE ON ALREADY " I think we're finally reaching that phase where people start looking beyond vampire for their supernatural thrills (Zombies: This year's vampires) and in my own personal life I was prepared to never ever read another frickin' vampire novel again. So when someone at First Second handed me a copy of "Life Sucks" I was so not interested. Not not not. I wanted to yell, "Booooooooring!" at them and hand the novel to the first graphic novel-inclined soul I met. But that night I made a huge step backwards in my campaign against reading any more vamplit. I read a page or two. Then three. Then before I knew it I was reading the entire book, it was 2 a.m., and I couldn't stop. In fact, as I am writing this review I just attempted to read a page or two to pinpoint why this was and the next thing I knew I was on page fifteen. "Life Sucks" takes that old tired vampire idea, places it under ugly fluorescent lights and their dead end jobs and somehow the combination is electric. For even the most vamped out amongst us, "Life Sucks" offers something fresh and new.Dave works the night shift at the Last Stop corner mart and his life is going nowhere. Literally. I mean, Dave's a vampire (can you say "worst job interview ever"?) and his master/boss happens to be Radu, a manager who likes to use terms like "team player" and "culinary instinct." If it weren't for Rosa he might just do himself in. Rosa's one of those girls, living girls, with a penchant for the Gothic. She fancies guys in capes with fake pointy teeth. Dave's got the real thing in his own mouth, but being strictly a vegetarian (blood from a can and he does NOT want to know where it comes from) he'd rather she didn't know about his dark side. That's all well and good until Wes, a surfer vamp with the same master as Dave, shows an interest in Rosa and makes a bet to make her his without the use of his powers. When Rosa suspects something is afoot, however, Dave has to make a couple sacrifices of his own to keep her safe.An uninitiated reader unfamiliar with the graphic novel genre might pooh-pooh the notion of there being great writing in comic books. There's a perception out there that for a book to contain both pictures and words, both the words and the pictures are rendered less worthy through the combination. As if pictures destroy the worthiness of the text and dumb it down. Aside from this being an outdated and, let's admit it, old-fashioned view of the graphic format, I have to admit that when I read a book like "Life Sucks" and find the writing to be superb, I still feel that telltale twinge of surprise. Somewhere deep down inside of me there's this part that is surprised every single time I pick up a graphic novel and find it great. Author Jessica Abel is a comic book artist who has a YA novel by the name of "Carmina" that is apparently coming out with Harper Collins at some point. On this book she has paired with Brooklyn writer Gabe Soria. Together the two give "Life Sucks" just the right amounts of mindless drudgery and crazy fantasy.Equating low-paying awful jobs with vampirism and managerial schlock is a pretty good idea. This is illustrated best when Rosa starts telling Dave how she would imagine a vampire's life to be. She doesn't want to hear about the night jobs or the low pay. She imagines "this vast network of dark, beautiful, intellectual, and artistic people, living forever with only the best things, the best food, the best clothes, beautiful homes..." This image is paired with the reality that Dave knows of Eastern European vampire immigrants playing poker and smoking over a card table at night. You can understand Rosa's desire to get away from L.A., but it's clear that vampirism just makes it worse, not better.The moral issues attached to being a vampire get some examination here, but Abel and Soria have to fudge a bit to make them work. Dave doesn't eat people (much to the other vampires' chagrin) and he doesn't turn people into vampires either. His friend Jerome eats people with impunity and still comes off as a pretty decent guy, which is an interesting dynamic. I guess that if your book has comic elements you can get away with the funny guy killing folk, but it's still pretty weird. The nice thing is that the authors are consistent with the character of Dave, giving the ending of the book a sad/funny take. Dave has compromised himself morally to save someone he loves. And this reveal is delivered in a humorous fashion, though there's a sadness to it that fits with the rest of the book. Bleak, but not too bleak.Warren Pleece was a good artistic pairing for this book. He's done a lot with DC, including "The Invisibles" and "Hellblazer." He has a style that works for this storyline. For the most part the book is concerned with real people and their real lives. And sure, once in a while someone gets their head ripped off, but generally Pleece has a good feel for that skinny guy who's always the girl's best friend but somehow never manages to turn that into becoming the girl's BOYfriend. He has a great cast of instantly recognizable characters (that's always important to me) and I loved the shifting perspectives. I enjoyed the colors too, but that work is done by First Second's residential colorist Hilary Sycamore (doing everything from "Laika" to "Missouri Boy") so he doesn't get credit for that.There was once an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Buffy encountered a group of high school students with idealized views of what it would be like to hang out with and become vampires. Abel and Soria take a similar idea, but in their hands it's a story of what it's like to be in your mid-twenties without a clue about where you're going or who you want to be. You feel powerless next to the jerkwad manager of your minimum wage job, like you couldn't leave if you wanted to. So it's either climb the ladder or stay where you are. That kind of hopelessness and limbo comes through loud and clear in "Life Sucks" and somehow ends up a fascinating, thoughtful read. A great addition to First Second's literary catalog.Review in March 15th 2008 issue of BooklistDave's life is full of the typical twenty-something frustrations. His job as night manager at the local Last Stop convenience store is retail hell. Rosa, the cute goth girl he has a crush on, doesn't even know he exists. And oh, yeah, his boss, Vlad, turned him into a vampire to make him a better employee. When Wes, his bully of a vampire-older-brother, steps in as rival for Rosa's affections, his sucky life gets suckier. Dave, the vampire equivalent of a vegetarian (he only eats plasma from the blood-bank), has to find some way to outsmart Wes' evil plans. This hilarious tale strikes perilously close to the reality of the slacker twenty-something life. Abel and Soria hit their mark with plenty of attitude and just enough snark to let their characters come to life. Warren Pleece's art marvelously captures the humor of the mundane that lend the book's crew of late-night wage-slave vamps believability and energy. A really fun read! --Tina ColemanPublisher's WeeklyDave is a poor vampire, working the night shift at the 24-hour convenience store run by his vampire master, Lord Radu Arisztidescu, who thinks Dave is pretty much a wuss as a bloodsucker. Truth is, Dave would rather steal his nutrition from a blood bank than kill the innocent. But this choice leaves him weak and vulnerable to more predatory types like alpha-vampire surfer dude Wes, who's making a move on Rosa, the Latina gothic babe Dave has his eye on. There's plenty of humor with Dave's friend Jerome acting as a "Clerks"-like foil, coming over to Dave's work at night when the black-eyeliner crowd comes by ("the Running of the Goths"). "Life Sucks" also gets a good deal of mileage out of the ironic distance between the romantic visions that Rosa and her mortal crowd have of the vampire lifestyle and the grimy reality of Dave's life as an eternal wage slave. Even if it doesn't pan out satisfactorily (the conclusion seems particularly truncated), Abel and Soria's light approach, combined with Pleece's bright, Technicolor art, gives the book an entertaining Joss Whedon gloss to its Gen-Y bloodsucking melodrama.Excerpt from an article originally published in February 26th 2008 PW Comics Week""Life Sucks" . . . puts a new spin on well-worn vampire mythology. Partnering on the script, Abel and Soria crafted a story that includes many of the tropes of vampire stories--blood sucking, weakness to sunlight, immortality--but uses them in unconventional ways."Five Star Review in ICv2 Graphic Novel GuideLife is tough for Dave Miller, and the fact that it will never, ever end does nothing to cheer him up. Two years ago, Dave was turned into a vampire, and now he's stuck working as an assistant manager in charge of the night shift at a local Los Angeles convenience store. To make matters worse, Dave's in love with Rosa, a goth girl with an unhealthy attraction for all things dark and otherworldly, which includes her having a crush on Dracula-wannabe Alistair. Normally, a poseur like Alistair wouldn't be much competition for an actual vampire, except that Dave is a vegetarian. Poor Dave. But when Rosa catches the eye of Wes, a psychotic undead surfer, can Dave get it together fast enough to save the girl before the sun comes up?Ranging from angst-filled Anne Rice vamps to the quirky banterful Josh Whedon types, vampire stories abound. This story balances squarely between the two extremes, with moments of grass-is-always-greener wistfulness, as Rosa compares her life to the dark romantic life she imagines all "children of the night" have, alongside moments of pure comedy, as Dave's friends help him strategize ways to meet up with Rosa. Best of all is the care the authors have taken in creating the world Dave and Rosa live in. Having thought of everything, from why a vampire master would want to create new slaves to what kind of snack foods a vampire might eat at a poker party, each detail helps brings the story to life and make it more plausible. The authors don't wimp out on the ending, either, choosing instead to go with a more difficult, more believable conclusion than the reader might expect. Perfectly appropriate for older teens and adults, this book will appeal to fans of vampires, of coming of age stories, as well as those who love Kevin Smith's movie "Clerks." - Eva Volin
About the Author
Life Sucks was written by Jessica Abel and Gabe Soria, with art by Warren Pleece. Jessica Abel is one of the foremost female comics creators in the industry. She and her husband teach courses on creating comics at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and have co-written the textbook based on their classes, "Drawing Words and Writing Pictures," also out this season from First Second. Gabe Soria is a Brooklyn-based music journalist and has written "Batman Adventures." Warren Pleece is a British comics artist who has worked on numerous projects, including "The Invisibles" and "Hellblazer."
Top Customer Reviews
I think you'll know where I'm going with this (five stars), but I'm going to say it anyway, if not only to drive home the fact that this is a great little book.
Not for a long time have I read a book that revels in the medium of comics such as this. Where some comics rely on the medium for effect, it seems to me that the creators of this book are genuinely having fun with the parameters that comics demand. (Just one panel of the look on Lord Radu's face was enough to leave me in stitches).
Each of the characters is well defined and developed over the course of the story. You'll find yourself really caring for for even Lord Radu. The dialogue is sharp, witty, and overall, very, very funny.
And last but not least, the artwork is a dream. Pleece manages to convey emotions with a mix of subtlety and fun. The dark black and red backgrounds that provide the backdrop for a lot of the book are excellently juxtaposed with the bright colourful characters.
So I implore you; if you're stuck on that decision of what to spend your dough on this week, make it easy on yourself, buy this!
Dave is one such shlub, a relatively newly minted vampire relegated to working the night shift at his vampire lord's Los Angeles convenience store. In a direct nod to Clerks, his best friend works next door at a copy shop (the 2008 version of a video store). Dave is pretty lame vampire, unwilling to drink real human blood, and thus perpetually run down due to his subsistence plasma diet. Naturally enough, he has a crush on a beautiful (non-vampire) goth chick whom he sees around. Also naturally enough, just as he gears himself up to approach her, a rival emerges in the form of a more traditionally virile and ruthless vampire (here in the form of handsome, macho surfer dude).
This love plotline goes pretty much as expected, although the writers do a nice trying to show how the goth chick's fantasy of being a vampire clashes with the reality as experienced by Dave and others. There are some pretty good gags, and nice deadpan humor (like Dave's roommate, a regular slightly nerdy human who seems entirely unfazed by Dave's transformation and vampire friends.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I'm not an avid comics reader, naturally. I'll occasionally buy one here or there if it looks interesting, but I'm no comics geek. Still, LIFE SUCKS has a lot of interesting thought put into it, and one of the phrases that comes to mind reading it is "blood-sucking capitalists", or "getting rich on the blood of the proletariat" (I guess that's two phrases, actually). LIFE SUCKS takes an economic view -- though one that is not heavy-handed -- on life, and applies it to vampirism, where the vampire "haves" prey on the "have-nots." Which is not to say it's a dense political screed, because it's definitely not. It is, by turns, funny, romantic, violent, noble, ignoble, and a study of characters. It's also about the compromises people make as they grow up, even if they will never grow old and die. I might even say that it offers the perspective that mortality is a benefit, in that one doesn't have to compromise whatever integrity a person has for an infinite amount of time, until there's no integrity left; a mortal can still die with pride intact.
Which is to say that there's more to LIFE SUCKS than meets the eye. It works wonderfully well as entertainment, but it works on a more philosophical level, too -- it's thought-provoking!
The story hinges on the idea that vampires are just like us and, despite being immortal, would still have to work menial jobs to earn money for rent. The main character Dave is slave to his master Radu, the vampire who turned him when he applied for a job at his convenience store. Radu is a vampire from the old country, but when he meets with his fellow immortals in his elaborate castle, they hang out in the wood-paneled basement smoking cigars and playing poker. By a similar token, Dave's best friends are two vampires who work in a copy shop and a diner, as well as his human roommate.
This exploration of the humdrum reality of everlasting life is an interesting concept, but beyond that there isn't much to the book. All of these details are really just the world the story is set in, while the plot itself is a rather typical "teen movie" romance and thus is never that particularly interesting. The story follows two guys who are going after the same girl; the twist is that it just so happens the two guys are vampires.
The characters are relatable but rather familiar tropes. Wes, a psychotic vampire surfer dude, is the antagonist, tormenting Dave and standing in the way of Dave making a move on Rosa, the cute goth girl that Dave has his eye on. But Wes's attraction to Rosa is more because he can't stand to see Dave happy than out of general interest. Imagine the stereotypical "bully" from any teen comedy, add in super-strength and a thirst for blood, and that's Wes. No effort is ever made to make him dynamic beyond the stereotype, and the same is true of Dave (slacker loser type) and Rosa (goth girl type) as well.
At other times both Dave and Rosa act in manners that are logically inconsistent with their established characters, simply because they must act that way in order for the plot to continue. Rosa's initial interest in the uncouth surfer Wes doesn't make any sense, but because it is necessary move the story forward, she goes out on a few dates with him. Similarly, Dave puts up with Wes's rude comments throughout the entire book for no reason other than that it artificially creates conflict.
The art is also decent enough but not outstanding. Pleece's skills as an artist were recently highlighted to great effect in Incognegro, but here the work is just bland. It was most likely a purposeful choice for the art to be stiff rather than energetic, as that is fitting with the atmosphere the story is creating. But the plodding page layouts packed with panel after panel of talking heads do little to engage the audience. There are a few moments of excitement where Pleece is allowed to shine, such as a full-page gag illustration early on in the story, showing the aftermath of Dave's run-in at the convenience store with a thief. Sadly, however, the story doesn't allow him much material to work with.
Perhaps worst of all, in the end the story just sort of stops. After Rosa and Dave all-too-coincidentally bump into Wes while he is out on a date with two other girls, Rosa calls it quits with him. Then, when she discovers that Dave is a vampire, she angrily confronts him about keeping this secret from her. The climax comes when both characters attend a party thrown by Wes, each with a different agenda. The party seems to be where things will finally come to a head, but what actually happens just changes the shape of the conflict. Then after the party ends, the final five pages are set two months later, and the conflict between Wes and Dave has been resolved off-panel by Dave's boss Radu, as is explained to us in some clunky expositional dialogue. Wes himself, the antagonist of the story, doesn't even appear in these final five pages, and Rosa and Dave don't interact with each other at all.
Life Sucks, then, is a book that had a promising idea but didn't do enough with it to set it apart from other vampire fare, instead miring down the interesting setting by attaching it to a typical teen romance. The book could work very well for young adult audiences, but more mature readers are sure to be disappointed in the illogical character developments and anti-climactic conclusion. In the end, it is engaging enough while you're actually reading it but utterly forgettable once you've finished.
Dave is a night shift clerk at a convenience store. He's also a vampire - turned by the owner when Dave applied for a position. Now, stuck in a boring job, he finds himself fascinated by a goth girl who herself is fascinated by vampires. Does Dave tell her the truth to try to win her over?
I found this completely fascinating. Our hero is best described as a dork, the other vampires are selfish, petty, or self serving despite their immortality and powers, and the customers at the convenience store are quirky in a quite believable way. The goth girls/guys are shown to be shallow and more interested in playacting than any real drama. And the vampire lords play cards in an old basement with a trophy fish on the wall.
The vampire angle is really a red herring here. This is a story about appearances, honesty, and finding your way in life. As such, it is a compelling read full of intricate plot points. It's also a thick book and there is a lot here to digest.
As far as basic stuff goes, BunRab's Standard Vampire Classification: (1)the book is romance as well as fantasy and graphic. (2) The vampires have fairly traditional superpowers and weaknesses: strength, ability to hypnotize humans, drink strictly blood, can't eat solid food, harmed by daylight although they can be awake and indoors during the day; long lifespans but can be killed by severing their heads. (3) The vampires have lives that include jobs; they don't exist just as vampires for the sake of being vampires, doing nothing but brooding darkly; they also exist in a milieu that has a presence besides just being a home for the vampires - it's modern day Los Angeles, with weather and beaches and cars, not some un-named place where there are only vampires and victims. I tell you this so that you can compare it to other vampire types that you like, or don't like, and see if this fits in. If you like your vampires deadly serious (pardon the pun) and ancient, then these vampires, who have senses of humor and are mainly young people, wouldn't fit your vampire profile. But if you like Tanya Huff's vampires, for example, who crack jokes, work for a living, and interact with humans a lot, then you should enjoy these vampires.
Our hero works in a convenience store owned by his vampire master, a fairly neat conceit on which to start the story. The convenience store stocks products specifically for vampires as well as the usual run of things, for example, beer made from fermented blood! So vampires can pick up a six-pack for their poker game. And some of this is where the graphic-novel format adds to the story something one might not get just from a text novel: the visual element of seeing four old vampires sitting around in a basement den with a singing bass on the wall, arguing about the actors who played vampires in the movies. Or how Wes the surfer-dude can tart himself up pretty spiffily as Wes the rich man's son.
I like the other characters, too - Merle the biker, who only makes a couple of brief appearances; Dave's roommate, a human who is awesomely comfortable with living with a vampire.
The ending is a bit predictable, but there are a couple of original elements in it, and it was nice to have it not be too sappy or unbelievably happy. Overall, I would say there's as least as much plot and characterization as there is in many of the vampire series novels in plain text, and more than some; although it's not great literature, it is definitely an enjoyable read and a must for the collector of vampire books.