Review: Handbook by Kevin Budnik

Kevin Budnik’s Handbook is a
mixed narrative, one of anxiety and disordered eating, and another of
relationships in a post-recovery world. In a 2×2 grid that I’ve come to
associate with Budnik’s autobiographical work, we see him navigate the present
as he contends with a past that is part ghost, part demon. Budnik delivers on
this mixed narrative using a variety of formal elements; greyscale panels
represent Budnik’s past, while teal panels represent Budnik interviewing
friends and asking very personal questions.

There’s a sketchiness to Budnik’s
completed work, partially due to the visibility of his rough pencils. These
blue lines feel purposeful in their intensity, like a haze of remembering.
There’s something to be said about seeing things you’re not supposed to see,
and in a way, their use in this collection is a formal mirror of the themes in Handbook.
Budnik’s characters are heavily stylized, and his watercolors are workmanlike.
In some ways I think the imprecise control of color serves to further the
emotional narrative – these bubbles of red and yellow surround characters at a
distance, a shield against the coldness of life.

Budnik navigates the treacherous ground
between self-pity and self-loathing. His relationship with himself, and his
disease, play just as big a role in his post-recovery as his budding romantic

What makes this comic so special is how
unsparing it is, towards both author and reader. Budnik doesn’t grant himself
the ability to forget the damage his anxiety has caused him, and so we as
readers are not spared from seeing that damage. This is a hard book to read,
maybe partially because of my own battles with anxiety. But the comics have an
observant, poignant quality that I rarely see. They are ruthless, but also
gentle. That’s a hard line to walk.

Handbook was self-published by Kevin Budnik through Kickstarter this year. You can get copies and see more of Kevin’s work here.

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