Young Liars: Daydream Believer
by David Lapham
Rediscover is a series of reviews highlighting past releases that have flown under the radar and now deserve a second look.
As viewers, listeners, and readers, we put entirely too much trust in our characters. We depend on them to be likable, identifiable and have an engrossing story that resonates with us to the point that we can envision ourselves in the role of protagonist. But what if our hero is a liar? What if they’re all liars?
I give you then, ladies and gentleman, David Lapham’s Young Liars, the story of crime, despicable New York City hipsters, and the lies they’ve told to reinvent themselves into who they are today. The first trade paperback volume, Daydream Believer, collects Issues 1 through 6 of the recently-canceled ongoing series — canceled, one assumes, because it was simply too weird for even the unconventional readership usually courted by DC’s Vertigo imprint.
Our protagonist and narrator, Danny Noonan, is a suicidal twentysomething would-be musician working in the average bodega. His companion, Sadie Dawkins is a young woman who took a bullet to the head that destroyed the part of her brain containing her inhibitions. They’re joined by a sweet transvestite junkie, a horny groupie, a bulimic ex-model, a wealthy man obsessed with get-rich-quick schemes and a punk rocker who claims Johnny Rotten kicked his mother in the stomach while she was carrying him. Together, they are pursued by The Pinkertons, a ruthless gang of killers.
This is all you can confidently believe, as the present is the only truth in Young Liars. While we can trust what happens in a given panel (provided it’s not a flashback), anything a character says is suspect and up for interpretation. Danny tells us one way he got a set of scars via flashback only to tell his friends something else. We can’t believe him, nor does Lapham even try to clue us in on what’s true. It recreates the feeling of any hip scene, where every movement is a pose and you’re left to wonder who all these people were before they came to the big city.
Writer/artist Lapham crafts a smaller, more focused story of outcasts on the run as opposed to the decades-spanning overarching epic of his unfinished crime opus, Stray Bullets. While much of Young Liars rivals Stray Bullets in sheer meanness, Lapham balances the grittiness with surreality. The Pinkerton gang are masters of disguise, and as such pop up in unexpected places. There’s an ugly showdown with a midget matador, and Sadie, the most honest character in the book, keeps warning of the “Spiders from Mars.” Sadie proves the real star of the book, whose energetic blitheness is as beatific as it is brutal. Always up for a rush of adrenaline, she bites off the nose of an attacker, hijacks a cruise ship in the nude, and even rides on the wings of a small plane — impulsive, childlike, yet ferocious, as if her uninhibitedness makes her invincible. Lapham frequently depicts Sadie as a character who defies panel and conventional physicality, demanding to be drawn in full page spreads in acts better suited to her mainstream superhero counterparts than the daughter of a department store tycoon.
Music, ever the medium of youthful affectation, permeates every panel of Young Liars. From the shit New York bar bands to the band T-shirts Danny’s always wearing, characters breathe music. Lapham even includes a recommended soundtrack list with every issue, and he’s got good taste, suggesting readers accompany their Young Liars experience with Wire, David Bowie, Battles, and even old standards like Pixies and Sonic Youth.
Everything about Young Liars is fake. The characters are drawings on the page, and even as characters they’re constantly lying to us. Even the colors are fake, as colorist Lee Loughridge renders scenes in contrived lighting akin to the cinematic effects that make the work of directors like Tony Scott, the Wachowskis, and Michael Bay even more stylized. Club scenes are rendered in neon glows and sunny weather takes on that golden “CSI: Miami” glow. After all, isn’t cinema the ultimate lie?
The truth, however, is that Young Liars is a bombastic punk rock comic: mean, aggressive, and willing to do awful, awful things to its unlikable characters — with style to spare. It’s a comic book for people who like singers who can’t sing and music that’s loud, fast and abrasive or movies where the hero gets the girl and then proves exactly why he doesn’t deserve her. We readers, however, deserve Young Liars and it deserves us.