The Hipless Boy is a sweet and charming collection of short stories set in Montréal. Its author, Sully (a semi-fictionalized Sherwin Tjia), presents himself as an ordinary guy, often impressed and amused by his less-than-ordinary friends, apparently a mélange of the author’s actual entourage.
His friend Owen is an event artist, always looking for a new spin on cultural happenings he organizes in Montréal. Minerva is a bi-curious rebel born into a wealth she rejected. And let us not forget Sully’s sister, a sympathetic hipster in love with a different band every other week.
There’s something wrong with the title. Although Sully isn’t the hippest young man in Montréal, he definitely has some hip. At a younger age he tried poetry and art classes, and he occasionally cross-dresses at Halloween parties, arousing his aforementioned bi-curious friend. In all fairness, if Sully’s not hip, he’s actually pretty cool. And insightful, and humble.
There are his observations on everyday life — for example, that you can fall in love with a girl you see regularly on the bus. A simple bird-feeding gone awry has the evocative power of a beautiful fable. His coffee dates, also, are keen observations on the dating world. Those ambiguous first meetings between possible lovers can be quite fun and gruesome at the same time, and Sully illustrates that very well. This graphic novel is littered with the little triumphs and small failures that make up everyday life in Montréal.
The collected stories also offer a variety of themes and scenes. Smooth lines and fun writing will help get past some pretty “mature” stuff: a four-way dildo in the shape of a swastika, menstrual cunnilingus, revenge defecation, cross-dressing, masturbation buddies, and other not-suitable-for-all-audiences subjects suddenly become quite suitable because of the way they’re portrayed. The cartoony drawings, the funny and smart writing help a lot, but mostly you know these elements are not there for shock value. They’re there to help the stories along.
Apart from the stories that evolve through different frames over a couple of pages, the author also shows us one-page stories accompanied by a single, full-page illustration. While he constantly proves himself capable of writing crisp and efficient dialogue, these one-pagers really give us a better understanding of the creator’s capacities as a storyteller. Sherwin Tjia is, after all, a published author, and these anecdotes or freeze-frames are a welcome addition to an already creative and fun graphic story collection.
In the end, Sully’s honesty and his lack of self-censorship make you want to befriend him. At no point do we have the impression that he wants to hog the limelight or that he has a score to settle. Despite the fact that most of these stories are altered versions of real-life experiences, or even completely made-up, the whole thing rings really true. His voice is at the same time familiar and unique. It’s also one you never get tired of. And it may be because, in many of the stories, the voice is also yours.
Joseph Elfassi is a freelance writer and photographer. You can visit his blog at www.elfassi.ca/wordpress.