PRIDE MONTH 2023! Photo comics are a fascinating alternative approach to the form. While they present themselves as following the same sequential structure as their more traditional illustrated counterparts the intricacies of their process are very different. It’s a format that was once at least reasonably popular in the UK, particularly for the teen girls magazine market, but one that fell rapidly out of favour in recent decades. Ype Driessen’s The Last Gay Man on Earth, from Street Noise Books, takes this in a rare full-length direction. One that purports to be the first autobiographical photo comics graphic memoir.
The Last Gay Man on Earth follows an on-page incarnation of its author, exploring his anxieties, neuroses and fears. Ype and his boyfriend Nico’s relationship hits an awkward bump in the road when Nico suggests a trip to the US after a conference he is attending there. Ype’s fear of flying gets the better of him and his continual procrastination about making a decision whether to go or not becomes an issue between them. As the days proceed Ype’s dreams begin to reflect his worries, with the result that he eventually finds himself living out his ultimate fantasy as the last man on earth, alone apart from the company of a talking vacuum cleaner called Chupi…
This is, unsurprisingly, a very meta story. It’s a self-reflective tale where the autobiographical lines between actuality and embellished reality are blurred. Is what we’re seeing restaged memoir or is it a fantasy version of events, exaggerated for comedic and/or dramatic effect? Driessen muddies the water further by introducing elements approaching magic realism, including that old cartoon trick of devil and angel versions of himself hovering over his shoulders giving running commentary on his psyche at key points. While The Last Gay Man on Earth explores serious issues in its depiction of Ype’s journey it does so with an uncompromising and self-deprecating humour that in its own irreverent way gives us plentiful insights into Ype’s thought processes.
For the connoisseur of comics craft analysing and dissecting the different skills that photo comics require will be an additional draw here. In terms of conveying characterisation and emotion there’s a level of static acting ability that’s essential. Those who remember those UK romance photo comics of yore will also recall how stiff and unnatural they often felt. Here Driessen, family, friends and other role-players, all give empathetic “performances”, often overplaying events to just the right degree to communicate the tone of scenes.
Each chapter represents a day and finishes on a dream-like fantasy sequence where Driessen has to be extra inventive in how he constructs his panel-to-panel storytelling. One particularly effective example is a paper plane plunging to its doom, representing his terror at the prospect of flying. In this regard, The Last Gay Man on Earth is as much about composing and choreographing scenes as it is about “illustrating” them. Working up to a beautifully played final scene this is a gloriously eccentric and witty book from a genuinely unique and rather endearing voice.
Ype Driessen • Street Noise Books, $21.99
Review by Andy Oliver