Review: The Amateurs by Conor Stechschulte

Most of the comics I’ve read up to this point (read: manga) do the bulk of their work by being as straight forward as humanly possible. The editorial maxim is to lead the reader by the nose through any plot, and resolution to questions and mysteries is valued extremely highly. This makes Conor Stechschulte’s The Amateurs something like foreign territory.

The Amateurs is 72 pages of black and white comics with a lovely watercolor cover printed by Fantagraphics. The book is slated to be released in June – early copies were available at TCAF, along with a stunning silk-screen print. Fantagraphics is calling it a graphic novella, in the sense that it’s a slight book, but The Amateurs’ brevity does equal clarity.

On the surface, The Amateurs is about two butchers, Jim and Winston, who arrive at work one morning only to find that they can’t remember how to do their jobs. When a pair of customers arrive and ask for their usual orders, the men diligently set about to do the work – with disastrous consequences. The tale of two butchers is interspersed with entries from a school-girl’s journal. The journal scenes cut the butchers narrative, giving readers some respite from what is truly a brutal story.

In some ways, The Amateurs is a Laurel and Hardy film, as imagined by H.P. Lovecraft. The book is funny, in a wretched way, but the humor serves a dark end. And that darkness is not easily explained.

Stechschulte’s use of lost and suppressed memory is really interesting here.  The main characters have completely lost their memories, and one of the customers at their shop suppresses the memory of the entire day. The student’s friend suppresses the memory of a severed head, still speaking. The cover of the book and the overarching sense of horror, these things seem to suggest that the butchers may not have just been ordinary blokes who one day got amnesia.

More importantly, how does the story within the story of The Amateurs reflect on human nature? One of the things that was clearest to me was the ending – showing that people can change, that humanity is interconnected and can be blessedly so, if people accept that connection. More than just an unsettling horror story, I feel that Stechschulte is peering into the human condition and displaying the bad and good with a flourish.

Perhaps, with the connectedness of humanity in mind, we are seeing in The Amateurs the lengths that people will go to ignore the wretchedness that exists in the world.  They are extraordinary lengths.


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