Book Review: Nothing Nice To Say Vol. 2 (Mitch Clem)

Cover of \'Nothing Nice to Say: Vol. 2\'Let me say this up front: I’m a big fan of Nothing Nice to Say, and I have been since about 2001 when I first came across the strip. It feels a little strange to say it but in many ways I’ve grown up with the strip. It’s been a substantial part of my experience in punk rock and has turned me on to some amazing and occasionally even life-shaking bands. Punk rock is a big part of my life and, thanks to that connection, Nothing Nice to Say has been too. I’m not going to pretend to be objective; it’d be a lie. What I will do is tell you straight-up what I think about this collection.

That’s enough sentimental nostalgia (go listen to a Hold Steady record or something). What you have here is a collection of Mitch Clem’s NN2S strips from 2005 to very early ’07. This covers what is pretty much the strongest and most consistent period NN2S has seen to date; Clem hit his stride with the artwork, refined his sarcastic and referential humour, and even dabbled in a few short plot-arcs (namely the ‘Bike Gang’ and ‘SELLOUTZ!!!’ series). The stand-alone strips are some of his best, ranging from simple gags and punchlines to angry diatribes about the fallacies of the punk scene. A few standouts in the latter category emerge from Clem’s feminist values. In the first he responds to readers’ voyeuristic demands for a more intimate look at his lesbian couple with a “Hot Action!” strip that sees them deciding what to buy in a supermarket and discussing who borrowed a CD. In the second, feminist lesbian Alice remonstrates with the sexism rife in a supposedly egalitarian scene (complete with a literal punchline).

I’m not going to give Clem an entirely free ride, though, no matter how big a fan of his work I am. First up, it was a bit of a disappointment that there were only about 80 pages of actual Nothing Nice to Say strips. With some generous maths that works out as about 150 strips. The other 45 pages are a mix of guest strips written and drawn by Clem for other webcomics, plus quite a few Joe & Monkey strips (a webcomic Clem had a short run on while its author, Zach Miller, was on hiatus). I didn’t particularly object to these strips, and some of the guest pieces are quite good. Some are perhaps too dependent on familiarity with the source material to include in a collection like this, reliant as they are on in-jokes or character-derived humour. I’d have preferred to see some of Clem’s superb flyer, poster and record cover artwork, or possibly some of the one-off strips he draws for punkzines (of course, there could have been legal issues with including these). It would have been great to see more actual NN2S strips, too, but in fairness a lot of the earlier material would probably need redrawing – and there is ‘Volume 1’ still to come.

So: my conclusion. The book’s a steal at ten dollars, which is about 50p to Brits (actually, are exchange rate jokes funny now that our economy is tanking too? Were they ever funny?). It’s the best, and funniest, and longest-running comic strip about punk rock in the world. I’m not sure about its appeal outside punk but by Rollins, if you give more than two shits about this scene and its music and its people then you need to read Nothing Nice to Say, and this book is a great place to start.

I should also link the discerning reader to an unusually lengthy NN2S strip published on the Dark Horse Myspace site: Blake and Fletcher head to a hipster party in the hopes of scoring some chicks (ironically recalling an old observation by Fletcher that “there’s something dreadfully wrong with your scene when the easiest way into a girl’s pants is to get into girl pants”). It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen about hipsters and fads in some time, and for bonus scene points it’s in full, awesome colour. It’s a great place to go for a taster.

NN2S \'High Fidelity\' strip And I’m so naming my band Death Throes of Bloody Autumnal Blood.

Dark Horse Books
ISBN 978-1-59582-150-8

Nothing Nice to Say (volume 2) is released on September 17th in the US, and can be pre-ordered from Things From Another World.

[ Mitch Clem’s site | NN2S site | Dark Horse Comics ]

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