March 2004

Amy Stender


Sparks: An Urban Fairytale by Lawrence Marvit

Once upon a time there was a girl named Jo, whom everyone mistook for a boy due to her small breasts and baseball cap. She works as an exceptionally gifted auto mechanic (knowing more about cars than her own boss and fixing unfixable cars simply by tweaking something in the engine) but has a terrible home life. Marvit seems to have based Jo’s parents straight from Ricky Fitts’ mom and dad in American Beauty: the mother is a drone and the father is constantly grumbling on about offspring with no respect.

Ever the dreamer, Jo grabs some spare auto parts around the back of an auto garage she works at and lays them into the shape of a man. “Shoulders to bear the weight of the world.” A fender. “Arms to hold me tight.” Cables. “A full head of knowledge and wonder.” An empty bucket. “A heart full of understanding.” A flower. [Tsk] Awww, that’s so sweet. That night, a bolt of electricity hits these pieces and sparks life. Of course, this junkyard version of Frankenstein’s monster doesn’t know anything (an empty bucket, remember?) so Jo puts him on a rigorous course of flash cards and eventually upgrades him to a Mr. Speak and Spell, so he can type out and “speak” his thoughts.

Galahad, as the robot was named by a neighborhood kid who apparently isn’t scared easily, doesn’t do much of anything throughout the story other than read, ask endearingly innocent questions (What is love? What is beauty?) and try to cheer Jo up all the time.

Fundamentally, Sparks had the potential of being an interesting story were it not for the fact that all the characters were seemingly created to portray a specific stereotype to the maximum. A good example is the obsessively preening females, whose only goal in life seems to be finding a man. They give Jo advice such as “Sultry will get you looked at but never approached. Sultry girls look too much in control. Guys don’t like that- They’re afraid of that. A good rule of thumb: Approachable, not intimidating. That’s why they have to approach you. If you approach them, then it’s doomed from the start… Besides, if a woman has any dignity, she’ll wait to be approached.” Now, there might have been a kernel of truth somewhere in that bullshit 50 years ago but today the lecture comes off as painfully outdated and eye-rollingly unbelievable.

This might be a period story, judging by the way the hairstyles and dress are drawn, but the reader isn’t ever sure. The only time reference you get in the beginning is “Once upon a time…” It could be the 50’s, it could be now. But this uncertainty brings up an important point: the artwork. Marvit seems to spend more time on building structure and background details than his main characters. Jo’s face and body are really nothing more than a few sweeping scratches. Her boss is all round circles and looks as though he was taken from the early steps in a “How to Draw Cartoons” book.

There are a couple honest conversations between characters, which gives the reader hope that the Sparks storyline is working it’s way toward depth and reading it won’t be a complete waste of precious time and hard-earned money, but those moments are quickly eradicated by Jo’s whining. One does feel the vaguest sympathy for Jo’s shitty life and luck but you just end up screaming at the book: “Suck it up! You’re 20-years-old! If you aren’t happy with the way things are going, do something about it! Fuck! You’re so fucking fake I hate you!” Well... That might just have been my reaction. Also, there were some editing errors that drove me crazy: “They’re” instead of “Their” and missing apostrophes.

The only heartfelt and honest character in this book is Galahad. He wonders who he is and why people call him a ‘monster.’ You know something must be wrong with your book when the robot evokes the most emotion. Unfortunately since electricity is his life-blood, it follows that water is his kryptonite (and leads to his eventual demise). I was most sad to see him go.

In case there are some readers who are gluttons for punishment and plan on buying this book, I won’t reveal the ending. Some people might call the ending a “rollercoaster ride.” I would be inclined to agree as long as those people were referring to a rollercoaster ride where you have to wait in line for a couple hours, bored to tears, and then suffer through a whirly, jerky, confusing, vertigo and puke inducing ride that you’re wholly unprepared for. In the end, you’re relieved it’s over and realize it wasn’t worth the money. Yeah, that’s what Sparks is like.

Sparks: An Urban Fairy Tale by Lawrence Marvit
Slave Labor Graphics
ISBN: 0943151627
424 Pages