Collecting a selection of diary strips from Alex Hahn’s webcomic series, Post Conatus: Going Home details a specific period in the illustrator’s life in 2013 when, prior to beginning a new course of study, he elected to move back into his parents’ home. It chronicles the somewhat uncomfortable intricacies of sharing living space with his mother and father again, an ill-fated infatuation and his general inability to win even the smallest victory in his continual battle with the vicissitudes of life.
Regularly published single-page diary comics are, by their very nature, more prone to feeling somewhat disjointed and rambling in their flow. It goes without saying that they’re reactive in composition and not building towards an obviously structured narrative. Hahn rejects a Kochalka-style regular rhythm in favour of an ever changing approach to the page depending on subject matter, tone and anecdotal pacing. It means the work on offer is perhaps, at times, a fragmentary read but there’s a bolder, more experimental touch to each entry as a result.
The strips range from observational humour to introspective meditations. Downbeat visual metaphor to emphasise an uneasy and less stable moment in Hahn’s life, for example, sits next to an amusing strip about the correct etiquette for toilet roll holders. The timing of the self-contained stories is excellent throughout, whether it be a throwaway gag about potential naughty words on TV game show Countdown or a profound reflection on dead birds on the garden lawn (below right). An irregular imaginary supporting character is the Karma Penguin who pops up from time to time to add a skewed slant on proceedings with his kismet-influenced annotations on Hahn’s existence.
Sadly the book’s most intriguing aspect – and the one that it’s largely been sold on – gets relatively little page time. That’s a shame because it’s those examinations of the awkwardness of returning to live in the family home that are by far the most sharply evoked here. Bathroom rotas with the parents, a disastrous day out with them, and depictions of Hahn’s often adversarial relationship with his father (memorably portrayed as Darth Vader at one point) are notably different subject matter for autobio work in comparison to the amount of time devoted to a doomed attraction. The latter may be recognisable through its smaller moments (the sadness of online interactions that falter and tail off) to the wider malaise that heartbreak brings, but it’s well-trodden ground with little new to say.
Hahn’s on-page avatar is depicted throughout with a somewhat misanthropic worldview which in terms of dry commentary leads to a number of bleakly droll moments. The history of autobiographical comics, of course, has been richly populated by curmudgeonly characters whose cynical stances nonetheless engender our support. But it’s a difficult line to walk in ensuring that the readership remains consistently sympathetic with the central character’s plight. That darkness in tone is matched by Hahn’s moody, smudgy visuals that give each page an oppressive aura as the weight of the world continues to bear down on him.
Post Conatus: Going Home does suffer from the unevenness that often characterises diary comics but there’s also a brooding resonance and world-weary wit that constantly engages the reader’s attention. Those wanting to investigate further can look through the full online back catalogue here.
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