In 1994, Eisner Awards-winner Evan Dorkin introduced the world to The Eltingville Comic-Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Role-Playing Club, a collection of angry, backstabbing, obsessive, misogynistic, foul-mouthed teenage nerds. Chapters appeared irregularly over twenty years, and in 2016, Dark Horse released the complete collection. It's savage, brutal, hilarious, and probably something every fan should read.
Some fen (understandably, especially after the first couple of seasons) complain that The Big Bang Theory invites its audience to laugh at, not with, the nerds. Compared to Eltingville, though, Big Bang is tame. Dorkin satirically slashes at the worst of nerddom with Swift, Juvenalian anger. I make no assumptions about the author's feelings and motivations here; he names it anger in the book's introduction. As a longtime fan and industry pro, he was pissed off at, say, the sort of people who would send death threats to comic-book writers who killed fictional characters. The saving grace is that Dorkin, something of a nerd icon, attacks from within. These characters don't represent all nerds; they represent the worst excesses, the people who foul up fandom. Of course, even less deranged fans may see something of themselves in Dorkin's funhouse mirror.
A fannish Valentine this ain't.
Basically, the worst nerds imaginable form a club dedicated to comic books, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and role-playing. Their obsessive, misogynistic, and selfish natures mean that the club's activities usually result in destruction, injury, and general chaos.
Most of the time, the Eltingville members manage to be their own worst enemies, but their rare triumphs over deserving foes prove highly entertaining. Apart from "The Intervention," a disturbingly funny "win" that won Dorkin an Eisner in 2002, Eltingville also gives us "As Seen on TV." This story concerns a cynical late-night salesman pitching nerd paraphernalia and collectibles that he doesn't understand to people he despises. His self-immolation under pressure from the club had me laughing out loud. This is metaphoric self-immolation, I feel I must point out. Literal self-immolation occurs in a couple of other tales.
The original final installment, in fact, has the club narrowly surviving a literal conflagration, disintegrating as a club, and briefly flashing back to their origins, when they got together to, you know, have fun. "Lo, There Shall Be an Epilogue!" brings the saga to a worthy conclusion, ten years later, at Comic Con.
Dorkin's distinctive and slightly crazed artwork suits the world he depicts here, and the art becomes cleaner as the years pass. He has an eye for detail. He knows the world he illustrates, and fills it in a manner that occasionally recalls Will Elder. He writes even better than he draws. The individual stories are filled with dark comic timing and disquieting observations, and the collection follows a loose overall arc. Indeed, given the years over which he wrote the source material, I'm impressed by how coherent the collection feels.
It's not perfectly so, of course. It would be antithetical to the mean spirit of Eltingville if the review did not feature a petty, nerdish nitpick, so let me proceed. Save for the epilogue, the tales occur over perhaps five years. However, they were written over four times as many years. The state of culture, geekery, and media reflects whatever was going on at the time of writing, whether that was 1994 or 2014. This leads to some jarring shifts of temporal context when one reads the entire collection as a complete piece. Of course, this is true of most serial comic books.
Like many compilations, this one features bonus material. The Eltingville Club includes commentary by Dorkin, "The Northwest Comix Collective," his short, similar work, and additional art, including sketches from the pilot of the early-2000s TV adaptation (which did not sell).
Unlike many "complete" collections however, this may really be it. Dorkin apparently has no plans to deal with these particular characters further, and that's likely a wise choice.
They really are a bunch of assholes.
Title: The Eltingville Club
Writer and Artist: Evan Dorkin
(with Sarah Dyer)
Publisher: Dark Horse
Collection Published: March 1, 2016.