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According to noted commenter Travis Pelkie, this came out in December, but I didn’t get it until last week, so that’s just the way it is. I guess Travis is just cooler than I am! Bugged is an interesting graphic novel by Rich Bernatovech, who wrote it, and Teyo, who drew it. It’s published by Drumfish Productions and costs $12.99.
It’s tough to review Bugged without giving it away, because there’s a pretty neat twist in it that changes the way we view both the actual plot and the way we’re supposed to read it. It seems like a pretty simple plot – a teenager named Felix is a total loser in the most stereotypical way until a talking cockroach tells him that he has a strange power, which changes his life completely. Then the book gets way dark. I mean, really bleak. But the twist makes us reconsider everything, and I don’t even want to write what the book turns into, because it’s far more interesting to discover it for yourself.
Bernatovech does very little to distinguish Felix – he’s the kind of kid who gets beaten up by the class bullies, whose mother doesn’t have time for him because she’s so involved with her church, whose father died at some point in the past, and who can’t muster up the nerve to ask out the one girl who doesn’t think he’s a spaz. One night while he’s masturbating in the shower, Bob shows up and starts talking to him. Felix thinks he’s going crazy, of course, but Bob shows him that he has the power to look into other people’s souls and see the sins they’ve committed. Bob tells him that only he has the power to do anything about it, and while it takes some convincing, Felix eventually does something about it – he starts killing the sinners.
Obviously, this is where the book goes a bit dark, but Bernatovech also goes the expected route by making Felix more confident as well. He’s able to ask the girl, Rachel, out on a date. He dresses more stylishly. Of course, the bullies still bully him, but he does try to stand up to them. Unfortunately, the date doesn’t go too well, and Bernatovech drops a nice clue about what’s really going on with Felix during the date. Rachel then has to save him from the bullies, but the way he reacts to that makes her think he’s not a very good dude. And so the book hurtles toward its conclusion, which Bernatovech does pretty well, redeeming the book a bit from its rather stereotypical set-up.
While a lot of what Bernatovech does is clichéd, there’s a good reason, and it makes the book, on reflection, a bit nastier and devious than we might expect. Felix isn’t a bad kid by any means, and his descent into madness is interesting because he’s trying to do the right thing. It comes a bit quickly, to be sure, but it’s not so sudden that it feels off. Bernatovech does a smart thing by not having him become a stud overnight – he gains some confidence from killing his first victim, sure, but he’s still an outsider, and he doesn’t know how to handle the newfound confidence too well. Yes, the bullies are a bit ridiculous (and yes, once again I should point out that I have a better view of teenaged years than many other people, apparently, so when I see bullies getting away with so much so regularly, I think it’s a bit excessive), but not to the point where we can’t believe it. Bernatovech does a very nice job with Rachel and Felix’s feelings toward her, because it’s never not awkward for Felix, even after she consents to go on a date with him. Their interactions are the best part of the book. All of this leads into the final scenes, where we can see what Bernatovech was going for and why Felix was so important. It doesn’t completely make up for some of the clichés, but it does help.
Meanwhile, Teyo’s art works quite well on the book. His stark and rigid lines add to the bleakness of the story when it gets there, but he’s flexible enough to give us good teenagers – Felix often looks and acts goofy, Rachel is cute, unpretentious, and blithe, and the bullies have some personality, as they don’t all look alike. Teyo does a very nice job “cleaning” the two main characters up – when Felix wears new clothes to school, he does look cooler even though he still exhibits a lot of his geekiness, and Rachel looks much better on the date than when she is working at the movie theater where she and Felix toil away. Teyo does a cool thing when Felix sees sins – he uses thick paints and harsh reds to give an impression of what’s happening without making it too clear, so it’s very much an emotional vibe that Felix gets, and we can see why it affects him so negatively. It’s a cool device. He draws Bob the cockroach as realistically as possible, which is smart, as he needs to look realistic so the idea of him speaking is more bizarre. It’s a neat-looking comic.
Bugged is a cool, twisted little tale. Bernatovech takes an interesting idea and explores the darkness of it, and then uses that to give us another, even more evil idea. It’s a better story than it seems, and it toys with the notion of the outcast and what he or she can do to enter society and if that’s even worth doing. Plus, it features a talking cockroach. How can you go wrong?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
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