The Eltingville Club
Collects: Stories from Instant Piano #1 and 3, Dork #3-4, 6, and 9-10, Wizard #99, Dark Horse Presents v. 2 #12, and Eltingville Club #1-2 (1994-2015)
Released: February 2016 (Dark Horse)
Format: 144 pages / mostly black and white / $19.99 / ISBN: 9781616554156
What is this?: Four devoted, terrible fanboys form a club —probably because no one else will associate with them, as they are horrible human beings.
The culprits: Evan Dorkin
The Eltingville Club is another book I’m reviewing months after it came out — to be clear, many months after it came out, not a few months, as is my custom — because Diamond evidently hates the comic shop I patronize. After giving up on Diamond, I bought Eltingville online.
The Eltingville Club follows the four members of the Eltingville Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Role-Playing Club. Bill, Josh, Tony, and Jerry (well, maybe not Jerry) give fandom a bad name. They are thoroughly repugnant people — again, excepting Jerry — who are violent, foul-mouthed, unempathetic, misogynistic, selfish, and probably a few other reprehensible things I can’t think of at the moment. Readers who have spent any time around fandom, online or in person, will find something uncomfortably familiar here.
In many ways, the Eltingville stories, which began in the mid-’90s, anticipated the Internet trolls and Internet / fan controversies of the 21st century, and I’m not sure whether that adds an intriguing element to the collection or if it’s just depressing.
Writer / artist Evan Dorkin is a true fan; the depth and breadth of the references made by his characters proves that. But he hasn’t mythologized any of the aspects of fanaticism. Dorkin is unflinching in his examination of all the stupid things fans do: obsess about minutiae, exclude others (especially “cultural immigrants,” as Bill calls them), buy all manner of collectibles, and waste tons of money. It takes a fan to recognize and out such cankers on the face of fandom, and Dorkin finds every hyperconservative flaw and brings them out for examination.
Although the Eltingville Club’s interests largely intersect with those of the book’s readers, we do not sympathize with these jerks, nor are we supposed to. Dorkin does not give us any reason we should like the club members, no redeeming features whatsoever; as a character implies in the final story, it’s hard to believe they even like each other. The more time we spend with them, the more we are sure they are irredeemable. Dorkin’s art — usually black and white, although one story (“They’re Dead, They’re All Messed Up” from Wizard #99) is colored by Dorkin’s wife and collaborator, Sarah Dyer — does not spare the characters either. At times, they seem to be made up entirely of flaws: they are sweaty, pimpled, fat, squinty-eyed, have unruly hair … The simple panels in the book’s first half are dominated by oppressively dark backgrounds. Later, the art lightens up a little, but the overwhelming feeling of darkness remains.
Perhaps the most depressing part of the book is the truly trivial things the club members collect: fast-food toys (and associated licensed soda cups), trading cards sold in Wonder Bread bags, licensed canned food, QVC tchotchkes, crappy toys that can only be acquired with upmty-ump mailed-in UPCs from packaged foods … These aren’t even primary collectibles. They are secondary merchandise, issued by corporations who don’t care about the characters or source material, created only to get people to buy other stuff they don’t need. Yet the Eltingville Club eats it up — literally, in Josh’s case.
Fortunately, the stories themselves are funny; if they weren’t, Eltingville would be insufferable. Fortunately, the characters’ loathsomeness means the physical comedy (usually in the form of assaults) is even funnier than it would be if readers liked the club members. That each character deserves the humiliation and insults they endure gives a pleasing edge of schadenfreude to the cutting remarks, and Bill, Pete, Jerry, and Josh deserve the consequences of their actions: the hallucinations that result when they take Josh’s mother’s medication to stay up to watch the entire Twilight Zone marathon, the destruction of a 12-inch mint-in-package Boba Fett at the end of “Bring Me the Head of Boba Fett,” Josh’s arrest after ripping open bread wrappers to find the Batman Forever card he wants, etc. Sometimes the fat jokes directed at Josh get a little uncomfortable (albeit not as uncomfortable as the casual misogyny), but they are realistic.
As I said, Dorkin is a fan, and Eltingville is filled with nods and references to everything the club follows. The trivia contest in the second story, “Bring Me the Head of Boba Fett,” is filled with a dizzying amount of obscure info, and the characters make frequent (and impressive, to be honest) references to the hobbies they love. The stories themselves echo classic comics; in “This Fan … This Monster,” the first full-page panel of the story copies the first page of Fantastic Four #51, from which the story takes its name. Later in the story, Dorkin’s homage to Amazing Spider-Man #33, complete with Ditko fingers when Bill finally escapes from under a bunch of comics longboxes, is a thing of beauty.
Strangely, the overall storyline is satisfying, and the longer pieces, the ones that are allowed to go beyond a single joke or theme, are the best, going beyond mere jokes and unpleasantness. In those issues, Dorkin piles on more and more awfulness, taking the characters and events beyond reality into a kind of fannish hyperreality. The stories have some continuity, and in keeping with the comics the club enjoys so much, it has a sliding time scale (the kids are teens in stories from 1994 and 2014). The epilogue — appropriately titled “Lo, There Shall Be an Epilogue” — wraps up Eltingville, showing how each turned out as an adult, ten years after the group dissolved. Encouragingly, being in the Eltingville Club does not sentence its members to lifelong misogyny or misanthropy, and some of its members become functional adults. On the other hand, the epilogue shows how hard it is to wash the stink of being such an asshole off; you have to work at it.
And for those of you who wondered what the deal was with the Welcome to Eltingville pilot that aired on Adult Swim: Dorkin has an afterword that gives the entire story.
I thoroughly recommend The Eltingville Club, but some readers might find it less enjoyable than I did — it can be rough reading about such awful people, especially if you have run into them during your trip through fandom. And it’s even worse if you realize you have something in common with them.
Rating: (4.5 of 5)