Create Space, 2010
204 pages, comic
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Ryan Dow’s The Art of Failing Buddhism is not a comic filled with skintight spandex people slugging it out above giant cities but is about the quiet heroism of maintaining a positive outlook in a world that seems Hell-bent on growing more grim with each hour. This good-natured collection of shorts brings our subconscious to the forefront as it follows an average, everyday man who prefers the solitude of his thoughts to the mass media and clogged city streets of daily life. This quiet and deeply personal series of introspective comics is a winner.
Despite the title, it is not a book about Buddhism but about a man on a journey to discover who he is but to do it at his own pace, with no urgency. When it’s ready to happen, it will happen. Throughout the journey, our hero is flanked by L’il Buddha, a watchful voice of reason. The angel on our shoulder. Like the spirit of Obi-Wan that advises Luke Skywalker, L’il Buddha hovers above our hero and alternates between being a gentle sage to a relentless nag. The funny and light-hearted exchanges between these two characters creates a philosophical base where it is more important to be at peace with yourself than to accumulate wealth or increase your number of Facebook friends.
Ryan explores the simple things in life, like learning how to cook and cleaning an apartment. As he sifts through desk drawers, he is confronted with past disappointments like an old speed-dating scorecard, and remembers the past anxiety of an old student loan statement. And throughout the book he meditates, plays video games and drives an injured, destitute woman to the hospital and then feels guilty because he did not do enough.
It’s hard not to like this character, or this story. We understand his desire to be a better cook, or a better artist. We watch thoughtfully as he contemplates religion, social media, limited liability insurance, public transportation and the times in which we live. The way that we live. How we set money aside for an emergency, preparing for failure. This is a man who is easy to root for, because he confronts what we all confront. In rooting for him to find peace, we are rooting for our own contentment.
Some of these vignettes are quick, just six panels on a single page. Some are longer and unfold in series, like when Ryan is confronted with a planned layoff. In nearly every story, he is at a crossroads, as we all seem to be at nearly every moment, where no matter which decision we make, nothing will ever be the same. Our hero realizes this, and is nonetheless almost completely at peace.
This is a very easy and a very quick read, filled with amusing scenarios (How to Make a BBQ Donut is hilarious is its absurdity). But above all the awkward (and actual) situations Ryan finds himself in this is a book about satisfying that inner Buddha and quieting that nag, at least for a few minutes a day. This is a book about a man who feels like a spectator of the world, but not a part of it, and is completely okay with that. A book that says that as we go through life, we may fail and fail again, but reminds us that failure is not permanent.
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, August 2010