Two Of A Kind, But Different (Part One) : Mike Shea-Wright’s “Venue”

Chances are that you’re as tired of being cooped up as I am, but I’ll say this much : one of the “net pluses” of the pandemic (sorry, there really has to be a better way of phrasing that, but I’ll be damned if I can think of what that would be right now) has been a creativity and productivity boom among self-publishing and otherwise-independent cartoonists. Most of us are well-familiar with the justly-lauded strips being shared daily on instagram by Alex Graham, Simon Hanselmann, and others, but it’s not like the printed page has been abandoned completely in this “brave” new world, either (indeed, Graham has just collected her Dog Biscuits series in a massive 400-plus-page volume she’s selling through Lulu and the entirety of Hanselmann’s “Crisis Zone” will be released in a single volume in fairly short order from Fantagraphics) — which brings us to Mike Shea-Wright and a pair of thematically-interconnected minis he’s recently finished up (as in, within the last couple of months as I write this) centered around the kind of mass social gatherings that COVID has made unwise at best, illegal at worst.

The first of these, entitled Venue, is about exactly what you think it is (as is true for the second, Beach, but we’ll deal with that in our next review) — a jam-packed rock show at a no-doubt-noisy club. In the interests of full disclosure I should make it absolutely clear that this is the sort of event I stopped having any interest in attending long before life under lockdown (like, two decades before), but hey — I was young once, and still remember (vaguely) both what this kid of shit is like and the admittedly dubious sense of excitement that comes part and parcel with it. I needn’t necessarily have much particular emotional attachment to the subject matter Shea-Wright is delineating, then, in order to appreciate whether or not he captures, and subsequently communicates, the energy and ethos of a live music show.

Cutting right to the chase : he absolutely does. There’s a raw intensity to this ‘zine that is born, I suspect, of both experience and longing — you get a definite sense that he’s been to hundreds of shows like this one, and that he misses them terribly. In fact, what he’s put together here is a celebration of everything about them : the ear-splitting decibels, the sweaty bodies crammed together, the casual violence of the so-called “mosh pit,” the clumsy bathroom hook-ups — it’s all here, it’s all happening, and it’s all as brash and boisterous as you remember.

And that, right there, is the key word : remember. Because this is very much a remembrance of the way things were, back when this kind of insanity made perfect sense. The drawings may be “messy” in the conventional definition of that term, but then so are live music shows, and celebrating the (admittedly subjective) beauty of such messiness is what Shea-Wright excels at. He doesn’t need words for that — indeed, language really can’t capture the feeling he’s going for here, so it’s just as well he doesn’t distract us with any — he just needs passion, and there’s plenty of that to spare in every panel on every page.

Obviously, this is an idealized vision of what Shea-Wright thinks a night out could — hell, probably should — be like, but he gets that across so clearly from the outset that by the time our nameless protagonist (an authorial stand-in, perhaps?) emerges from the show beaten, bruised, and bloody, there’s absolutely no doubt that he’s had the time of his life, to which all I can say is : hey, to each their own, right? Personally, I was reminded more than anything of why I don’t do this kind of thing anymore myself, but the simple fact is that this comic comes as close as I care to come to experiencing a punk or hardcore show in the flesh one more time, and that means that Shea-Wright has crafted something tactile and true and probably even timeless here.

No, I absolutely won’t go see your band — but hey, I’ll happily check out this comic again anytime.

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Venue is available for $5.00 from Mike She-Wright’s webshop at https://gumroad.com/mikesheaindustries?sort=price_desc

Review wrist check – Seaborne Trading Co. “Sea Venture.” This is the “sunset bezel” model riding its factory-issued aqua blue NATO strap.