Buy This Book: Jess Fink’s ‘We Can Fix It’
Autobiographical comics aren’t really my thing. I realize that this is limiting and that comics are more than just superheroes, but my love of the medium is kind of inextricably tied to my love of big action, weird adventures and, like so many other things I love, dudes in tights punching each other right in the face. Unless someone’s autobiographical comic is truly exceptional, like Mike Dawson’s Freddie & Me from a few years back, they tend to just leave me cold.
The reason I bring all this up is so that you know what it means when I say that Jess Fink‘s We Can Fix It, a memoir where Fink addresses all the major regrets about her past, is hands down one of the best graphic novels of the year.
To be fair, the thing that initially drew me to We Can Fix It — aside from just being a fan of Fink’s work from Chester 5000, her porn comic about a repressed Victorian lady’s torrid affair with a robot — was how differently it’s structured than a straight autobiography. Fink calls it a “Time Travel Memoir,” and the premise is that she has somehow gotten hold of a time machine (and a shiny green jumpsuit like we all wear here in the future) and has decided to use it for the sole purpose of revisiting all the regrets of her past and “helping” her younger selves avoid them with timely (and not necessarily wanted) advice. It’s a pretty amazing idea, because it’s something that everyone can relate to. We’ve all had that moment where we wish we could take back something we said, or make a better decision, or not spend all our time on a relationship that was doomed from the start. Even though Fink’s experiences in the book are definitely unique to her life, they’re things we’ve all been through, and that kind of universal relatability doesn’t come around often. And it’s even better because for a good third of the book, Fink uses it for a series of genuinely hilarious gags.
The main joke is that Fink is using the time machine to go back and make out with her younger selves when she (they?) is (are?) at her (their?) most sexually frustrated. It happens throughout the book, and while that seems like it might be a one-note joke that’s easy to run into the ground, it keeps getting funnier and funnier as the whole thing turns into a ludicrous sci-fi sex farce where she’s plucking herself out of desperate moments under the premise of instructing herselves on the finer points of romance — and also voyeuristically leering at the egomaniacal orgy that results through a keyhole. It’s weird, but it’s hilarious, and It probably helps a lot that Fink (whose erotic comics are pretty top notch) chooses to draw these self-on-self makeouts with terrifying and hilarious wide-eyed zombie intensity.
I think the idea might be that if the real-life Jess Fink doesn’t actually get to go back in time and enjoy an autoerotic makeout session, then by God, nobody else oughtta be getting off on it either.
The thing is, as much as that gives the story a great, funny hook that can draw in people who are already fans of Fink’s work on Chester, it’s not really what the book’s about. Once all possible Jesses Fink (and all their possible haircuts) have been made out with, the book shifts its focus from sexy times to trying to correct all of her past mistakes.
And that’s where things pick up.
At the start, it’s still pretty funny, with all the cringe-inducing humor of someone looking back on themselves at their most vulnerable and awkward, and it’s because Fink’s able to make those moments seem actually funny and relatable that it hits so hard when it switches to the darker moments. And when it gets dark, this book gets dark.
There are some genuinely terrifying moments from her past that Fink brings up in this book, first hinting at them and then confronting them directly within the story, and the sense of dread that she’s able to get across on the page is one of the most affecting things I’ve seen in comics in a long time. For a lot of creators, that kind of shift in tone would be too much; it’d snap the narrative in half and make for a disjointed reading experience, especially in a book that goes back to reminiscing about the lighthearted good times of Fink’s youth right after. Here, though, the way it’s built actually helps. For one thing, it’s how memory works: You try to remember the good times, but the bad stuff creeps in there just long enough that you can’t really forget it before you deal with it and move on, but it’s more than that.
Fink spends so much time establishing her past and her regrets as something we can all relate to, making us laugh because we all recognize what those situations are like, that the terror she experienced in those dark moments is every bit as relatable. It becomes something that the reader can feel, and the idea that this is something that actually happened, that’s an immutable, unavoidable part of her past is where the fear comes from. Like Present-Day Jess Fink, the reader ends up hoping that this time she can change it, but she can’t, and that realization hits like a wrecking ball.
I can’t imagine that this was something that was easy for Fink to put down on paper even without a complicated narrative framing it, but to do it this way, and do it so well, is incredible. It’s a short sequence that lasts less than three pages, but it has an astounding impact to it. Without it, this would still be a good comic about someone romping through their past and fulfilling the wishes of everyone who came up with the perfect comeback a week after an insult, but with it, it’s great.
In the end, the moral of We Can Fix It is that when it really comes down to it, we can’t, and we all kind of know that going in. Even if you had a time machine and could go back and fix it, there are probably better things you can do. In that respect, it’s a book that both fulfills and denies its own premise, and it does it in an elegant way that you might not expect from the fact that it’s also a comic where a young lady goes back in time to poop on her high school bullies and make out with herself in college. But that’s what’s great about it, and what makes it such an intensely compelling read.
Well, except for where Present-Day Jess smacktalks Sailor Moon to her younger self. That’s just being ridiculous.