The Most Honest Artist in Town: Remembering Joe Matt

As grandiose as it may sound, everybody who loved the work of Joe Matt can remember when they first discovered his work. The experience of reading a Joe Matt comic was like getting brutalized by a tornado: every page of his signature title Peepshow was packed with so much unflinching honesty that you would feel dizzy from the impact.

Jon Wurster, Joe Matt and Tom Scharpling

When it comes to discussing Joe’s work, “Honesty” is the first word that generally comes up. And that makes sense, because he leaned into it like no other before or since. Sure, other comic book writers have depicted the good and bad in their lives on the page. But Joe took this to a new level. He would truly eviscerate himself, revelling in each act of self-exposure like his life depended on you knowing what he was really like. Reading his work is like participating in a staring contest: can you keep reading without looking away? And you would inevitably blink. Joe won every single time.

The notion of referring to an artist as being “brave” or “courageous” is generally offensive. Artists aren’t heroic. But it tracks when it comes to Joe Matt’s work. Every issue was like eavesdropping on the world’s most unsettling therapy session. You might be disgusted or even repulsed, but you cannot deny the transcendent rush that followed. This guy was going somewhere you simply didn’t go if you wanted to be perceived as a “normal” person!

But what is “normal?” Joe erased the line between what should and should not be shared with an audience, which in turn made the reader realize that perhaps they didn’t need to be so fearful of their own dark secrets.

Joe knew he was a mess; anyone that would call their own collection The Poor Bastard knew the score. But he also knew everyone was a mess underneath it all. The difference is that he embraced his absolute humanity of it all without blinking. Joe Matt won every time.


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