Lanky: Aaron Cometbus, paperback, 90 pgs. By Sean Carswell

I don’t know why I get sucked into reading every issue of Cometbus. Actually, I do know why. It’s because Aaron writes at a level that’s miles above what you would expect from a personal zine. I’ll even go so far as to say that he writes at a level above most writers: zinesters, journalists, “serious literary authors,” whoever. He has the ability to draw you completely into his world, and he has the talent to express deep thoughts simply and clearly. I also really respect the fact that he can write at this level and that he has all this talent and that he’s developed such a large audience, yet he still publishes everything himself. That says a lot.

Still, every time I finish reading an issue of Cometbus, I swear that I’ll never read another issue. The reason for this is, despite the fact that I really think highly of his writing, Aaron Cometbus has mastered a tone that lingers somewhere between melancholy and nostalgia. I can’t read his stories without getting the feeling that, though the past was really cool and full of good times and wonderful people, it’s all over now. That coolness and those good times and wonderful people are all gone and the present stinks in comparison. I get stuck in this mindset. I start thinking about all the great friends I had and drifted away from. I mull over great times gone forever. It depresses me. Then I have to snap myself out of it. I have to look at Cometbus and remind myself that – this issue, anyway – takes place in 1984, when Aaron was nineteen years-old. And I’ve been nineteen, and I lived through 1984, and I wouldn’t go back to either of those times even if I could.

I fully admit that this may just be a personal problem, though. I’m talking more about my reaction to the book than I am talking about the book itself.

Lanky is technically issue #47 of Cometbus (and yes, I know that #48 is out already). In the introduction, he says that it’s not really a book. But it is a book. It’s bound like a book and it’s one long story with a plot and sub-plots and well-developed characters. It’s a novel. Lanky tells the story of Aaron’s first love. We follow a group of young punk rockers, most of whom are children of professors, living, partying, becoming friends, separating, and coming of age in Berkeley. Aaron and Lanky fall in love and have a relationship in this atmosphere. In some senses, it’s a classic love story, but the characters are original and interesting enough, and the setting is different enough to make you forget the classic elements of the story and just read along. I found myself feeling completely drawn into this world, and, perhaps because the narrator loved his characters so much, I became attached to the people in the book. I wanted to get to know them better, to hear more of their dialogue, to see more of their actions, to get out of the narrator’s head a little and meet the characters more directly, but Aaron keeps them at arms length. He’s very protective of his characters. You get the sense that he’s saying, “These characters are my friends. You can tag along and watch what we do, but you can’t be a part of us.” This is a strange attitude for a writer to take.

Still, like I said, it’s a really good read. I think this is Aaron’s first novel, and it’s an impressive book. As soon as I shake this nostalgia, I’ll probably go check out his next zine. –Sean Carswell (BBT, PO Box 4279, Berkeley, CA94704)