Ben Snakepit: Life Lessons on the Crapper: By Ronnie Sullivan

Jun 19, 2011

     Last week, my friend Stephanie and I finally got around to returning each other’s shit. For over a year I hoarded a small stack of her DVDs in exchange for letting her borrow a few of my books. When I got them home, I placed them neatly on their shelf like the prize pieces. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I wanted to re-read them all at once. Instead, I opted to just read Ben Snakepit’s first comic anthology The Snakepit Book (covering 2001-2003).
     Over the next week, I finished and read through his three annual Snakepit compilations (2007-2009). I used to own the second anthology, My Life in a Jugular Vein (2004-2006), but I gave it away and haven’t replaced it yet. When I finished 2009, I wanted to know when the next book came out.
     In the age of Google, it doesn’t take long to stumble upon Snakepit’s blog where he mentioned the release of another three-year anthology in 2013 instead of an annual. I had been under the assumption the next release was going to be another annual, but this would cover the tenth and final year of Snakepit comics. He claimed before that, like Bill Watterson (creator of “Calvin and Hobbes”), after ten years he had run out things to say and that Snakepit had run its course. I’m excited he found some more things to say.
     So here I am, left to my thoughts about Ben Snakepit and a longer-than-anticipated wait for the bridge that ushers me into Snakepit’s 2010 and beyond. As a result, I present three reasons (one for each year) to wait for the next Snakepit anthology! (And maybe go back and read the previous nine years.)
     1. Snakepit is humbling.
Ben Snakepit has always said that the comic is, was, and ever shall be intended for reading on the toilet. I’ve honored this wish on several occasions. From experience, it’s pretty easy to get through two Snakepit weeks on the can. If you think about that, there goes 336 hours of another person’s life in a five-minute shit. I bet we can all relate to having two weeks of life reduced to a story told in five minutes or less.
     The comic persona of Ben Snakepit sometimes lives mundane stretches of existence where he’ll come home from work and get high, drunk, or both, while doing nothing exciting. From a day-to-day perspective, this doesn’t really make for interesting comics. Over time, as the greater story unfolds, these mundane patches reflect our own lives. The weeks where the same three or four things consume us, whether or not they’re productive, begin making more sense. To put it bluntly, the world becomes smaller because we recognize that basic human experiences are universal.
     Simultaneously, the world becomes larger because of his daily actions. When I’m having a shitty day and I wonder why some greater power is doing this to me, I think of Ben. I think that somewhere in Austin, Ben is probably just sitting around playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City or eating his girlfriend’s awesome cooking. It breaks down the self-centered bubble that negativity creates and reminds me that just because my day sucks, the world’s still spins. Be warned that this often doesn’t stop bad shit from continuing to happen.
     Have you ever flipped through a Snakepit book, and compared a particular day in your life to a day in his? It’s another reminder that we are not the center of the universe.
     In 2009, when my wife and I got married and celebrated through the night, Ben took his girlfriend out to dinner and went home to play XBox. On the day my father passed away from cancer, my friend Sam and I stood on the Port Hueneme Pier, trying to fill the empty space in my soul with marijuana smoke. Ben, meanwhile, rallied from a hangover and went to a show. When Snakepit and his girlfriend spent their first night living together, I can’t remember exactly what I did. I probably had one of those uninteresting days where I went to classes and worked one or both of my jobs only to go home, get stoned, and watch The Office on DVD.
     If you haven’t already, give it a try. It’s a game the whole family can enjoy.
     2. Snakepit is literary. Seriously.
This is another look at the larger storyline that develops over the course of many years. If you’ve read the nine years of Snakepit’s life, you can no doubt take pieces of the comic and connect them to events in literature. Like Hamlet, Snakepit will slip into a soliloquy when he’s unsure of big-picture things in his life. Like Candide, Ben has come of age and is now tending to his metaphorical garden with his girlfriend.
     Okay, I wouldn’t go so far as to say Snakepit comics are a true “coming of age story,” but it’s still more fun to watch a dynamic character over static ones. In the beginning, Ben was piss-drunk every night, hungover every morning, and listening to loud music every moment in between. The last three panel strips in 2009 had Ben going to work, enjoying a homemade meal by his girlfriend, and watching TV before bed. As readers, we’ve been like viewers of The Truman Show, witnessing all of this second-hand.
     This is where criticism of the comic comes into play. Critics, the author included, believe that with his new domestication, the comic is boring. Instead, it should be recognized as a new era in Snakepit’s personal evolution. Snakepit is content with where his life is. I say sit back and enjoy the new challenges and struggles this brings on. They can be funny at times, like on 10-27-09 when he and his girlfriend discuss having children on the way to a birthday party at a family-friendly restaurant and Snakepit later suffers the consequences of eating there.
     Seriously, there is a bottomless abyss of topics here…
     3. Snakepit doesn’t end, just the calendar year.

     Such is life. That’s really what the Snakepit comic represents: Life.
     Through three panels every day, Ben Snakepit lives. Some days are relevant. Some days are insignificant. However, they’re all strands in his web of life. It’s very raw at times. He often wears his heart on the panels and he welcomes us as the fourth wall. When he felt lonely in the past, he’d leave the background blank and talk one-on-one with us. When he gets paid, he celebrates by drawing himself with all the bling of a hip-hop star. I celebrate with him on those particular days because I too know the awesome feeling of payday in a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.
     We enjoy it because it’s not our lives. He may say he’s boring, but we can read his comics and wonder what it’s like to live in Austin. I often imagine toobing, drinking Lone Star Beer (because I live in Oregon), working at a video rental store, going to Fest… This is another bottomless abyss, but this time for the imagination. For however long we read Ben Snakepit’s life, we’re vicariously living it.
     When times are bad, the writing and the art often reflect it. The same goes for when times are good. When he’s feeling super-creative, he uses the panels across each page to create letters. Over several pages, those letters spell out words. When Snakepit is drunk, he can draw funky panel boxes. When it’s time to draw a phone, he admits that his art is still a work in progress.
     The only constant is that life goes on...
     There’s three reasons to help get you excited for the next anthology. This should provide plenty of food for thought on your next trip to the bathroom, with a Snakepit collection tucked under your armpit Al Bundy style.

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