Maybe things were better in the late '80s and early '90s, or maybe it was just in comic books. Not sure if anyone was holding their breath for a collection of the DAVID CHELSEA IN LOVE stories, but now that it's here, it reads like a two-tiered social document of the first, gossipy order. First, DAVID CHELSEA IN LOVE exists as a narrative of the times in which the story takes place, particularly the sexual mores of young urbanites. From today's perspective the oddest thing isn't really in any of the couplings but the way in which New York is viewed vis-a-vis smaller cities, in this case Portland, Oregon. It's hard to remember a time when the more attractive, cheaper regional cities were looked upon as hick-town deathtraps, and simply surviving in New York was seriously extolled as some sort of major life accomplishment, but there it is in all its anachronistic glory. DAVID CHELSEA IN LOVE is full of little moments like that, ways of thinking that pop out of the narrative for the certainty of their permanence.
The other equally valuable level on which the volume exists is as a snapshot of autobiographical strategies in comics, circa back when the issue seemed really important to the future of adult voices in the medium. Chelsea's version of David Chelsea is so smug and self-satisfied he comes across as endearing. Chelsea also switches between visual presentation techniques in a way that suggests a lost art catalog of 1980s comic book styles. One almost expects to turn the page and see Dori Seda walking her dog. There are grand gestures and wow-pages that the modern reader may have to look at twice to recall a time when they would have just killed an audience dead in their seats, such as one particular sequence that takes place on an outdoor stairway. Chelsea is a skilled artist who wrote a very good book on the use of perspective in comic art. There is almost no perspective on display in the way he chooses to tell this story, but that's what makes it loads of fun.
Tom Spurgeon is a writer living in Silver City, New Mexico. He can be found online at The Comics Reporter.