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Horror Hospital Unplugged

A 256-page large-sized graphic novel, Juno Books, 1996.
ISBN: 0-9651042-1-4.
Buy from Amazon.

Category: coming-out, slice-of-life.

Author(s): Dennis Cooper, Keith Mayerson.

Manga-styled romance

Horror Hospital Unplugged is a curious beast: adapted by bookwriter Dennis Cooper from one of his early short stories, it sits between comics and illustration, thanks to the versatility of artist Keith Mayerson.

I'll admit I've read only one book by Cooper, but I was rather struck by the quality of the writing and the nastiness of the happenings mixed with a romanticism which made for a potent brew. I found all that again in this graphic novel, which tells the story of Trevor Machine, the young lead singer of the indy band Horror Hospital. Trevor might not be very talented, but he's very cute, and that in itself is enough to draw the attention of manipulative journalists and producers - and also enough to further confuse an already sexually-confused Trevor. For all his rebel attitude, Trevor finds himself torn between his newfound love for an out-and-proud guy and his desire for a career in music, maybe to the cost of his self-esteem. All that doesn't sound too original, but Cooper's portrayal of the L.A. music monguls (among them David Geffen) and his inclusion of the real-life late River Phoenix as a ghost full of good intentions gives this fiction an energy which I found engrossing.

Mayerson's art can't be too praised: besides creating his equivalent of the manic energy of the writing, he manages to use at least a half-dozen styles to convey the characters' inner lives and their psychological states. From the manga-inspired romantic sequences to the Kirby square faces of a music producer, from cartoony to David Hockney-realism, the pages brim with a vitality which bring a verisimilitude to even the more ludicrous episodes of Trevor's life. I also want to add that Mayerson avoids the pitfalls of voyeurism, as the more downbeat moments are drawn in an almost abstract and expressionist style which involve the reader far more than a more descriptive style.

Horror Hospital Unplugged is a book that should not be forgotten, as much for its literary and visual qualities as for its treatment of the age-old story of how young people have to find their way in the world of their cynical and scheming elders.

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