Nicole Goux and Dave Baker’s F*ck Off Squad (or more accurately Fuck Off Squad as it’s referred to everywhere else outside the cover) follows the lives of three teenaged friends growing up in Los Angeles. It’s described by publisher Silver Sprocket as “the greatest comic about Instagram, skating, and low-key trying to date someone while you’re still in a relationship ever made.” A catchy hook for the potential reader who’s up for coming-of-age dramas with a contemporary vibe, perhaps, but if you’re already thinking this sounds like just another angsty teen soap then please reconsider. F*ck Off Squad is also a beautifully observed character piece that balances an appealingly in-yer-face attitude with genuine moments of true pathos.
Originally published as a series of minicomics (there’s certainly an evolution in style apparent between chapters) F*ck Off Squad follows three central characters and their wider social scene. There’s skater Vanessa “Jimmy” Trujillo, the most confident of the group, who is clandestinely seeing her ex-girlfriend Kate, her friend Megan Tran who has a doomed crush on her Teenage Switchblade bandmate Katie, and Clark Hobbs, the final part of the threesome who is currently conducting his latest relationship in a long-distance manner via Instagram with a girl he’s never met.
Through over 100 pages, split into three chapters, we watch the three as they cycle through familiar teenage rites of passage and share their moments of camaraderie, heartbreak and joy. Baker captures the bantering speech patterns of those formative years with a naturalistic ear for authentic dialogue that never feels contrived or awkward. One of the storytelling devices he uses to avoid undue exposition and to give us a more rounded impression of the characters is using multiple captions around them (above left) filling us in on their personal traits and also adding seemingly throwaway trivia that nevertheless fleshes them out as individuals.
This is very much a book that fits into that favourite category of comics for us here at Broken Frontier – comics that tell their story in ways that only comics can. Goux’s pages are constantly structured to exploit those unique properties of the form to further narrative themes and to immerse the readership in the characters’ experiences. Smaller panels scattered across a larger image of Teenage Switchblade, for example (above), create a highly effective impression of time, space and individual perspective at the band’s gig. Characters become integrated into the routines of their daily lives in a representational way too as panels merge into social media interactions, the cast move through a map of their surroundings, and even video games bleed into reality (below).
In a more traditional sense Goux also depicts the skateboarding elements of the book with a fluid motion and switches between busy, intricately panelled pages to larger double-paged spreads to emphasise moments of emotional resonance. (If you ever want proof positive as to why the digital-only champions’ demands for an end to double-page spreads are so fundamentally wrong then this book makes the case with a beautiful eloquence). In an afterword Baker talks about the reasons for reversing the traditional writer-artist credits order for the book to list Goux first and, in addition to the preceding discussion about the book’s art, there’s absolutely no argument that Goux’s visual characterisation defines the cast as much as their verbalised personalities.
F*ck Off Squad brings us into the lives of its three central characters with an insightful empathy. They are flawed, they’re not always likeable and they make mistakes. In fact they’re as much a Fuck Up Squad as they are a Fuck Off Squad. And yet they’re sympathetic throughout because because that’s what teenagers do… they fuck up… and in this carefully realised world we not only see ourselves in Jimmy, Megan and Clark but are reminded of the uncertainties and tribulations of our own teen years. An extraordinary collaboration between Goux and Baker and yet another reminder as to exactly why Silver Sprocket are one of the most exciting publishers on the current indie/alt scene.
Review by Andy Oliver