In a way, I suppose, it makes sense that a cartoonist as image-conscious as Benjamin Marra would find “inspiration” in the ultimate story of excess and artifice, American Psycho, but for a guy who’s spent most of his career deliberately confounding readers as to how much of what he’s doing is sincere and how much is, as the Brits would say, a “piss-take,” his decision to do a bunch of pencil-and-ink drawings based not on Brett Easton Ellis’ novel but, specifically, on the Mary Harron cinematic adaptation starring Christian Bale is, if anything, too obvious — after all, when you strip away any pretense of “spoof” from Marra’s work, you rob it of a pretty good chunk of whatever ostensible “power” it may possess. “I just dig this shit” is an honest enough statement to make, however surreptitiously, but when you steadfastly refuse to answer the natural follow-up question to that — “Okay, why?” — then what’s really left?
As it turns out, if Marra’s Floating World Comics-published American Psycho broadsheet is any evidence, the answer to that is “not much,” but what are you gonna do? My wife’s a huge fan of the film, and when I saw copies of this impressively oversized “newspaper” on sale at the Floating World store a few months back during a trip to Portland, I forked over the five bucks they were asking for it. And, yes, I did check out the entirety of its 32 pages, and found myself not just fundamentally unimpressed — but fundamentally uninterested.
Marra’s Patrick Bateman doesn’t especially look like Bale, but whatever: The idea is more to capture the intent of each still he’s chosen to reproduce, rather than to simply aim for straight visual fealty, and that’s fair enough, but let’s get real — the clinical austerity of these drawings runs entirely counter to the deliberately-dated aesthetic of the film, and doesn’t posit some radical (or even tepid) new interpretation on the material in its wake. The end result just ends up looking lazy, lifeless, a rote exercise in freehand “copying.” The term “cash grab” even comes to mind — except for the fact that this thing is sold on the cheap.
That being said, for whatever reason, this has been an “in-demand” item for Marra’s fans — it was originally printed in mini-comic format as part of the Elf Booklet series under the rather lengthy title of Drawings Inspired By The Motion Picture “American Psycho,” and when that sold out it found new life, as well as a new publisher, in this 15″ by 22.75″ format, which also features three new illustrations and new covers.
In strictly formal terms, there’s plenty these drawings “get right:” the balance of blacks and whites is stark bordering on unforgiving, and Marra has a way of zeroing in on the menace in every scene he depicts — but, crucially, he doesn’t accentuate it any appreciable manner beyond what Herron, Bale, et. al. managed to. Anything but, in fact — he’s managed to “de-fang” the material by default, simply because the concept itself is so ill-considered and his approach to it lacks any sort of passion.
Say what you will for Marra’s work on the whole — and plenty of well-reasoned arguments have been advanced by both his partisans and his detractors — but whether you love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in between, the idea of him swinging for the fences and missing doesn’t usually enter into the equation. You either respect his intentions or don’t, and that discussion is beyond the scope of this review, but there’s no doubt they at least exist. The only thing I took away from American Psycho is that he felt like making some drawings based on a film he liked, and while that’s an entirely reasonable thing for an artist to do, who are we kidding? That’s what sketchbooks are for.