Life of the Party

Writer / Artist
Life of the Party
Life of the Party graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Fantagraphics Books - 1-56097-261-0
  • Release date: 1996
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781560972617
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

No alternative anthology from the mid-1980s was worthy of the designation if it didn’t include one of Mary Fleener’s remarkable looking strips, and Life of the Party collects her autobiographical material to 1996.

Unlike some of her contemporaries, by the time she started producing recollections of her past, Fleener had lived a life, and circulating among interesting people provides anecdotal reference for what she refers to as ‘autobiographix’. There’s no judgement or retroactive guilt in their presentation, just an acknowledgement that something interesting took place, although surely there were times when drawing her memories that Fleener must have wondered if they really happened. This even applies to people just mentioned in passing. A guy who saved all his shit in pieces of tissue paper? Ugh!!! Highlights include memories of a flatmate with massive breasts, the crazy Celia, the boat trip from hell, and events leading up to a ghostly intrusion. However, it’s not all shock and disbelief as Fleener also reveals she’s constantly mistaken for someone who works in whatever shop she’s in.

Far more so than other artists, there’s a radical developmental curve to Fleener’s art, although as the strips are supplied to flow from one to the next rather than chronologically when Fleener drew them, the impression is of her swerving wildly from style to style. The earliest strips have a neat underground look with no indication of what’s to come as she picks up further influences. Nods to Peter Bagge are apparent, and they gradually incorporate what becomes Fleener’s signature style, what she calls ‘cubismo’, although it’s beyond this collection before she fully embraces it.

Anyone who enjoys a jaw-dropping dip into the sordid elements of other lives will enjoy Life of the Party, and while Fleener’s comics instantly invoke memories of an era, they’ve proved timeless.