Review by Ian Keogh
Almost by stealth Fantagraphics have been introducing Italian author Gipi and his unique worldview to English language readers, and they now consider us ready for My Badly Drawn Life, Gipi’s 2008 reflection on his past, and his most highly acclaimed work. It’s far from conventional autobiographical reminiscence, dense, challenging in places, and opens with a statement of nothing interesting the author any more, followed by a consultation with a suspect therapist. It’s also continually thought-provoking, beautifully illustrated in a variety of styles, and heartbreakingy revelatory as Gipi attempts to make sense of self-destructive tendencies, depression and other ailments. Simple ink drawings accompany typically pithy observations on the sample art, while the watercolour page is part of a separate continuing narrative.
This is a storyteller’s autobiography rather than chronological recollection, Gipi reflecting on incidents he feels have relevance to the person he is. While that person is mired in depression and there is an intense morbidity, the anecdotal nature of his earlier escapades is frequently funny and that’s increased by the acerbic commentary in hindsight. Like anyone looking back, Gipi sees his earlier self differently from the way he imagined he was at the time, although the teenage Gipi and mates took things a little further than most. Not that there aren’t genuine horrors in his life. We’re told about an intruder’s sexual assault his sister fought off when they shared a room, and a cancer scare that develops into something almost as unpleasant.
Interviews reveal the reason for the title is Gipi’s desire to purge himself, which he does artistically, resulting in much of the art being simple inked illustrations rapidly produced, sardonically referred to as badly drawn when they’re not. The spontaneity conveys a greater feeling, but the process also allows for visual interpretation. It’s noticeable how often Gipi draws himself roughly while backgrounds are also sketched, but more detailed. Does it indicate a lack of belonging? The watercolour pages of pirates are a way of contextualising early sexual exploits, of Gipi and others, related to the pirates who want entertainment from a scared storyteller. Here, the subtext is easier to decipher, and on other occasions Gipi almost underlines his allegories, such as a sequence about swimming.
Bold, ambitious and successful in every respect, My Badly Drawn Life is book to cherish. It’s there to offer hope during the bad times, and it’s there to offer amusement and admiration during the good.