THIS REVIEW OF ‘COME BACK TO ME AGAIN’ CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Mickey Rivera. Come Back To Me Again is a gruesome and beautiful visual study of what happens when someone chases narcotic euphoria to the edge of sanity and acceptability. With the exception of a really unfortunate misstep that I’ll get into later, it’s damn near perfect. We’re introduced to our antihero, nicknamed “Sz,” (claiming his name is actually “B”) as he sits stark-eyed and shirtless behind a table that’s filled with a maelstrom of beer bottles, half-eaten food, and nearly every popular drug you can think of. “I’ve tried it all,” he narrates, staring out at the reader with pained expression of concern as if he knows what’s in store for him in the next 80 or so pages.
One fateful day, Sz wakes up to realize that his girlfriend is leaving him, or, rather, is packing up her shit because he came at her blackout drunk in a public place and broke up with her. In a way, Come Back to Me Again creates a kind of soft-boiled crime drama. The murder victim is Sz’s self respect, his girlfriend reports by leaving him, and he spends most of the comic interrogating and/or fighting a handful of imaginary friends—companions he’s dreamed up during the course of countless drug binges—trying to work out how it all went down and where the killer might have gone. We all know who the killer is, even Sz knows who the killer is, but the answer is only obvious to him after a trial by drug-fueled psychosis.
A handmade, expressionistic visual atmosphere takes hold immediately, and it does not let go for the entirety of the book. Sz’s world is made of emotive painterly effects, smudges and streaks of Van Gogh color that make everything feel like it was made in an absinthe frenzy. Artist Wojciech Stefaniec’s portrayal of the human body borrows much from Lucien Freud’s later style, where you can almost see the blood and lipids bulging out and discoloring the surface of everyone’s skin. This visual style adds to the book’s decadent narrative, as Sz wakes up, gets fucked up on whatever drug is handy, then ventures out into the world for as long as he can stay conscious, the nights and days leading always, inexorably, towards blackout.
Unfortunately, one of Sz’s hallucinations, a karate master who repeatedly beats the shit out of him whenever he gets drunk, is depicted using an offensive Asian caricature that leaves a really bad taste in the mouth, renewed every time he appears on the page. It smacks of that old-fashioned casual racism that rears its hideous little head when someone has no ill-intent, but hasn’t done enough research into stereotypes to catch themselves. It put a damper on my enjoyment of the book whenever that character came into play.
Which is a god damn shame, really. Come Back To Me Again combines art and narrative like few other comics do, harmonizing the two so that when Sz goes off the deep end so does the art. During the handful of moments when Sz is sober, life is held together with those Van Gogh brushes and colors. When he inevitably dives back into his stock of narcotics everything begins to mutate and grow uncontrollably, integrating shards of collage and cutouts as Sz’s mind continuously implodes in fascinating ways.
Foregoing detailed exposition in favor of decomposition, Sztybor keeps the narrative focused on Sz’s inebriated fugue state as he wrestles with his unshakable habit and the havok it has wreaked on his life and relationship. The narrative floats unsteadily along, page after page, in a semi-poetic confessional stupor. Sz is hardly an empathetic character, but that may be the whole point. Someone in the midst of a major substance abuse problem is not someone anyone wants to be around. The abuse he put his partner through—including a humiliating public breakup followed by incessant and unwelcome text messaged apologies—will hit all too close to home for anyone who’s been close to someone in Sz’s shoes. Perhaps if that awful karate goon had been worked into Sz’s narrative as another aspect of his degenerate state of mind it could have worked.
Writer Bartosz Sztybor hasn’t made much of an effort to hide that he is, at least in some respect, writing about himself. He’s hidden his initials, “B” and “Sz,” in plain sight in the protagonist’s name. Considering how ugly things get for Sz, this gives Come Back To Me Again an intensely personal edge that just adds to the overall dream-like quality. It’s questionable whether a work like this gives heavy drug use an irresponsibly romantic edge, as though the high drama and beauty of it all excuses the awful behavior and the self harm. It doesn’t, and I can tell Sztybor and Stefaniec have put a lot of effort into making the ugly side of Sz’s extreme experiences as grotesque as possible. To quote Georges Bataille: “The self-acknowledged suffering of the disintoxicated is the subject of this book.”
Written by Bartosz Sztybor.
Art by Wojciech Stefaniec.
You can purchase ‘Come Back to Me Again’ here.