Nothing Nice to Say is the first foray into the dirty underbelly of print comics for Mitch Clem, and this collection of strips serves not only as a nice addition to any punk's second-hand coffee table, but as a surprisingly strong introduction to new readers.
This book collects strips that were originally published online from January 2005 to September 2006, and actually serves as volume two. There's no real description given in the book as to why volume two was printed before volume one, but when taking a peek at the archives on the NN2S website and seeing how much better Mr. Clem's art has gotten over the years, it makes a little bit of sense for him to Tarantino this whole project, giving himself ample time to tweak and redraw the early stuff for a proper print release. Let's hope he actually gets around to doing that someday.
The strip revolves around Fletcher and Blake, two jaded twenty-somethings living in the Minneapolis area. Fletcher (the bald one) is prone to making outlandish statements and behaving childishly, while Blake (the one with the eyebrows) usually serves as his foil. It's not exactly an atypical setup for a comic or any other means of media, but the quality writing and what Clem does with his characters are what sets NN2S apart from many other forms of entertainment utilizing this setup.
There are plenty of supporting cast members that seemingly cover every subculture existing in the punk community, and none of them (including Blake and Fletcher themselves) are safe from serving as the butt of a joke at one time or another -- emo kids, feminazis, crusties, hipsters, skinheads, and the list goes on. Most everything is covered here and more often than not, Clem is right on in both writing for and illustrating these archetypes. NN2S is ostensibly at its best when at its most meta -- Clem often breaks the fourth wall and involves a cartoon version of himself in both stand-alone strips and story arcs, usually with highly amusing results. More on that later.
In addition to the aforementioned supporting cast, several famous punk (or punx) figures are referenced or make appearances in the strip. Whether it's Blake's shrine to Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye telling Nike executives to piss off, or even Blake and Fletcher becoming born-again Christians after news breaks of Blink-182's indefinite hiatus, it's all wildly hilarious and again, spot-on when there's a point attempting to be made.
Most of the strips are one-off jokes, but there are a few story arcs contained herein. The much-ballyhooed and delayed Bike Gang arc is included in its entirety, as well as an arc involving Clem leaving the strip in charge of his one 'readers' -- a teenage punk with spiked hair and bad acne donning a shirt emblazoned with a huge anarchy sign -- and his driver who begins crafting poorly drawn comics loaded with grammatically poor internet speak, and a neat crossover arc involving Joe from fellow seminal webcomic Joe and Monkey joining Blake and Fletcher's band, the Negative Adjectives. The highlight of the included arcs is undoubtedly the story of Clem 'selling out' to a massive newspaper syndicate, and an older, bearded man invading the strip armed with a clipboard full of standards and practices attempting to wash out anything offensive from the Nothing Nice to Say universe.
Also included in this collection are some wonderfully annontated notes by Clem, who expectedly does a fine job of explaining the origins of his characters, as well as a multitude of guest strips he's penned for other webcomics, including Questionable Content, Theater Hopper and a full month's worth of Joe and Monkey strips that Clem cites was the main catalyst for his renewed interest in cartooning and subsequent resurrection of NN2S.
The only pseudo-detractors present with Nothing Nice to Say are its shorter-than-it-sounds 128-page length (it probably took longer to write this review than to read this thing cover to cover) and the book's smallish size, 7" by 7". Maybe I'm just used to those huge, rectangular Calvin and Hobbes collections, but I was expecting something bigger. And yeah, NN2S is a niche comic with a lot of the more specific jokes falling on deaf ears to readers unfamiliar with punk culture, but seeing the website we're on, I'm trusting most of you won't fall into that category. None of these faults, if one could even call them that, keep Nothing Nice to Say from being a must-own for any fan.
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