Those unfamiliar with Ben Snakepit, he’s a DIY punk who draws three panels, every day of the year, with a soundtrack song at the top, peppered with movie suggestions. The comics are more simple line drawings—visually more “three chords punk” than Frank Fazetta.
These collections that span years are my favorites because multiple subtleties come into play. Think of Ben’s panels as pixels. A cross page spread is twenty-four pixels displayed together. It can often be surprising when you step back, let all the pixels soak in, and then see Ben’s schooner of a life sailing in a particular direction. It can be oddly touching. It’s often hilarious. It’s often mundane.
Ben lives a largely typical life in many ways. Work. Video games and television. Eating. Pet care. Relationships. He’s also an ethical musician and a comic book artist who has over a decade of self-discipline under his belt.
Certain weeks—sometimes months—of Ben’s life have the feel of the repetitious backgrounds to old Hanna-Barbera cartoons. A self-observed life, distilled to three daily panels, especially on days when nothing really happened, can be an act of humility. (Ben often draws himself as a pile of poo, a day wasted.) Over three years, Ben grows. His worldview shifts slightly. The daily footsteps don’t look like much. Life’s like that. 1,096 days and 3,285 panels later, Ben quit the video store, gets used to his job at a print shop, is thinking about losing weight, and decides to not give up drawing comics. Thankfully, Snakepit is not a purely self-indulgent, self-absorbed, too-center-of-the-universe “memoir” comic book faking a life that looks good on paper. The honest mundanity makes days when he proposes to and then marries Karen all that more special.
The world is also a much different place than 2001, when Ben started doing these comics, 13,140 panels ago. 56k modems. Cell phones just made phone calls. Myspace didn’t start until 2003. If anything, I find Ben more relevant than ever. This 2013 media world is a world of instants. A world of endless distractions. Depthless metrics. Con-sump-tion. Dollar signs eating their own tails.
Ben’s always been a little bit cagey in Snakepit. He appreciates the power of secrets kept and he’s largely adept at living a private life while having a “paper” public persona. I’ve known Ben for over a decade now and I can happily say that I’ve never seen his erect penis in an email or online. In Snakepit, he respects his own privacy, knows when to stop, realizing there may be future job applications to fill out, in-laws to see again face-to-face. So instead of seeing him have sex in comics, it’s left to the imagination. (“Then we did some Valentine shit,” and the panel says “Too hot for Snakepit.”) There’s even a black bar over Ben’s wang in the panel about a kidney stone in one of the funniest drawings in Snakepit history. (“I failed to mention yesterday but the doctor stuck a camera up my dickhole.”) Then Ben went to work. Then one of the three bands he’s in played Beerland.
I’ve often thought that DIY punk years are like animal years. Punks just put more into every single day. It ages some a lot quicker than others—drugs, sleeplessness, hustlin’ to get ends to meet. On the cover, Ben makes fun of himself. He’s holding his aging back, shaking a cane, and looks like he’s yelling, “Get off my lawn!” I like the older Ben. He observes and comments on the slow encroachment of the “suburban life of the mind”—health issues, responsibilities that come with paying rent, sharing paying bills, and keeping a vehicle in working order.
I also like what Ben has not become. Although his rebounds from partying are harder and he works in an office environment, he’s not quite Dilbert. (“I think getting stoned and going to Fry’s is one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday morning.”) He’s not quite Kathy. (“Today is Saturday and I’ve made some bad decisions.” Second panel: “Next, I got drunk with money I was supposed to use for toilet paper.” Speech bubble, X’d out eyes, “I’m 38.”) He’s not quite Charlie Brown, but often close. (“Then we joylessly ate a pizza.”). Although he hates Mondays and loves lasagna, Garfield’s never peed in a beer can mid-set offstage during a Ghost Knife set. Most thankfully, Ben is not a member of Family Circus. (“Shaking hands with a monkey wearing a hat and pants might be the best thing that ever happened to me.”) But he’s relatable as an honest, flawed, creative person, and—if we’re just looking at Snakepit purely as text and images—as a compelling character.
For deceptively looking like he’s not doing much at any given time, Ben Snakepit’s “drawing like nobody’s reading,” is some of my favorite comics of all time—and you thought the beat slowed down… –Todd Taylor (Birdcage Bottom Books, 324-A West 71st. St., NY, NY 10023)