Cringe: An Anthology of Embarrassment
by Peter S. Conrad, ed.
Birdcage Bottom Books, 2014
112 pages / Birdcage Bottom Books
I regret the majority of messages sent through my Facebook messenger. I constantly regret jokes told in mixed company. L’esprit d’escalier is my main form of wit. I’m not alone, though. Embarrassment is ubiquitous, especially in the creative community, and yet it still hurts every time I blunder. But there’s something that keeps me from cancelling my Facebook account and never leaving my house again—it’s the solace that is I can laugh and learn from my mistakes. This must be the driving force behind Peter S. Conrad’s Cringe: An Anthology of Embarrassment. Cringe collects twenty plus comic strips by indie comix masters such as Box Brown, Noah Van Sciver, J. T. Yost, and Shaenon Garrity which shed light on the mortifying, but often hilarious interactions that make us reconsider our human interactions.
Many of the stories included are (seemingly) autobiographical stories of minor embarrassment. For example, Sam Spina thinking it’s acceptable to drink from a bottle of Bacardi like a hamster, or Chris Carlier’s strip about mistaken identity. But it’s strips “Eye of the Beholder” by Adam Pasion, which contains a panel depicting a cornea being sliced by a fingernail, and “Young Girl, Get Out of My Heart” by Geoff Vasile, about a MySpace hookup between a 29-year old and a teen, that truly earn the title Cringe. In Lizz Lunney’s “Levels of Embarrassment” strip, she offers a handy guide for navigating embarrassing situations. Under cringe: “RUN AWAY AND NEVER RETURN!”
Fortunately, the cartoonists in this book have not chosen to hide away forever. Many of the comic strips provide a cathartic laugh or three, but just as many of the entries within the anthology tap into the real pathos of human experience. Beneath the cool exterior, there’s true pain in Victor Kerlow’s strip. And beyond Elijah Brubaker’s tough exterior in “Fight” lies a commentary about the futility of violence. It’s Fred Noland’s “Crayola 64” which offers the deepest of psychological inspection, though. Reflecting on a childhood classmate who destroyed the box of crayons he loved, Noland writes
How hard, deprived and unhappy must his life have been to want to share that level of misery in such a senseless and cruel way. I must have hated him at the time. Now I just feel sorry for him.
I hope his life got better too.
When embarrassed and hurt, it’s easy to want to feel sorry for oneself, but if we’re able to move past the emotional pain, we can learn, and sometimes even laugh, and develop true introspection in our lives. Art is a great inroad to introspection and Cringe: An Anthology of Embarrassment is more than just funny, it’s a healing work.
Cringe is available to preorder through a fully funded Kickstarter campaign until June 30th, 2014. After that you’ll have to wait until its September debut at SPX or you’ll have to order it from your local comic book store (Diamond code JUL140933), so don’t wait on this one! Plus, the Kickstarter stretch-goal funding goes to paying the contributors.