Life Sucks

Written by Jessica Abel and Gabe Soria
Art by Warren Pleece
192 pages, color
Published by First Second Books

If there’s a genre that has almost no permutations left these days, it’s vampire fiction. Each new spin has been seen before, and every new project can be traced backwards, somehow, to something else. In many ways, though, that’s actually a good thing. It means that people who do write in the genre have a wide variety of avenues available to them that automatically feel familiar to the audience; it lets the creators focus more on the story itself and less on the trappings. In the case of Life Sucks, that’s a good thing—the basic idea may hardly be original, but it’s the characters that help drive the book.

Dave’s had better days. He had no idea when he interviewed for the night cashier job at the local convenience store that the owner would be a vampire, much less one that would promptly convert Dave with the idea of forever having an obedient employee. Now he drinks expired plasma bags, deals with the 3am shoppers, and generally speaking shuffles his way through life in a daze of boredom. Then Rosa from the local goth group comes into the store, and everything changes. It’s a pity, though, that she’s more enamored with the myth of vampires than those who actually are unlucky enough to be one…

Jessica Abel and Gabe Soria’s story, in a lot of ways, is less about vampires and more about life in general. (No pun intended.) The basic thrust of the story is the romantic struggle between Dave and Wes over the hand of Rosa, with only the finer details of the story being really affected by the vampirism. And really, that’s a good thing. The vampire elements make the love story more interesting, and the love story makes the vampire elements more interesting. Each on their own probably couldn’t hold people’s interest that much, but working in unison it’s a surprisingly fun story. Abel and Soria thought through their vampire world well, establishing a full network of products, businesses, and havens for the vampire community. Doing so gives the book a much richer background, making Life Sucks feel very much like this could actually happen in our world. As a result, it gives the non-vampire portions of the book a much stronger punch, helping the reader from being distracted by the fantasy portion of the book and instead giving you the extra attention to cheer Dave on. Dave himself is a strong enough protagonist, feeling like he’s been dropped into the book from any one of another creations dealing with slackers, but someone who finally gains drive and purpose with Rosa in the picture. Dave’s the most realistic character in the book, and by the time the book was over I really felt like we’d gotten a strong handle on him. Most of the supporting cast seems to be lacking that level of reality, though, instead coming off as a series of one-note characters. Their only purpose in the book seems to be to steer Dave down the path that Abel and Soria have planned, and unfortunately aren’t that interesting otherwise. It’s too bad because there’s a lot of potential in Dave’s friends and co-workers, but they just never get the attention needed to make them feel a little more robust.

Warren Pleece has been drawing comics for as long as I can remember, but I must say that I think this is his most attractive art to date. I love the way he draws the characters in Life Sucks, from Dave’s perpetual hangdog expression to Rose’s cheery, winning smile. Each character is drawn both beautifully and realistically, and there’s a nice smooth line to his art that I don’t remember ever looking so refined in the past. Perhaps it’s the difference between working on a graphic novel versus a monthly comic, but whatever it is, Pleece should stick with it. The storytelling in Life Sucks is pretty basic—it’s almost all three rows of panel per page—but it’s effective, focusing the reader’s attention on just the right elements of each scene. It’s a straightforward read, and one that really shines under Pleece’s direction.

My one complaint with the book was that I felt the ending swerved back and forth in two different directions and never seemed to really fit either way. Part of the ending is extremely downbeat and slightly depressing, which felt incredibly jarring and out of place for Life Sucks. No sooner did this happen, though, than an epilogue shows up that yanks the book in the exact opposite direction. I hadn’t been crazy about where the book had been right before the epilogue, but this additional section actually made me yearn for the earlier ending; this new one felt too convenient and out of the blue to be believable. Still, even despite this ending, I did enjoy Life Sucks. It’s a fun story, one that I think has a wide appeal to all sorts of readers. One of Abel’s strengths in her other works has always been exploring relationships, and she definitely brought that to Life Sucks. It’s definitely worth a taste.

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