cover image The Rough Pearl

The Rough Pearl

Kevin Mutch. Fantagraphics, $22.99 (172p) ISBN 978-1-68396-284-7

Mutch (Fantastic Life) draws readers into the full bloom of mental breakdown in this viciously satirical graphic novel. Adam Kline, a struggling digital artist in the mid-1990s, teaches part-time at a New York fashion school and is stuck in a loveless marriage with another professor. Mutch skewers both the academic and art worlds that misanthropic Adam moves between as he quells his anxiety with so much Ativan that he suffers frequent hallucinations and blackouts. He acts on an ill-advised crush with a student, develops a paranoid fixation with a new colleague, and flirts with potential professional success after a gallery owner takes interest in his work. But Adam is adept at undermining himself, often waking from a blackout to realize he’d inadvertently done something horrible. When fully conscious, he worries so fervently about saying the wrong thing that he inevitably blurts out the worst. Mutch’s black-and-white drawings render these situations as uncomfortable as they are laugh-out-loud funny; he’s skillful at illustrating people who can barely hold their emotions in check. It’s exhausting being inside Adam’s head, yet the cringe humor keeps this darkly funny graphic novel from getting bogged by his despair and paranoia. The sticky mix of surrealism, satire, and situational comedy makes this deeply discomfiting graphic novel hard to put down. [em](Mar.) [/em]