The first chapter of Fütchi Perf is a montage of different people, all different races, on the move, doing their thing. They’re cartoony and saggy, with both bounce and weight. They mostly read as young punks and queers. Ebullient narration tells us: “It’s election day,” “All the right things are winning!” “You’ve received a sizable arts grant!” “This neighborhood is swarming with all your closest friends!” “You’ve never been so happy!!!”
It’s an odd two-part joke. The first part of the joke goes: things aren’t really like this. But the second part says, gently, well, why not?
Why is it that art about good things is so often bad art? Most of the happy images we see day-to-day are selling something, or the artist is trying to pull a curtain across the ugly parts of life. Art showing flowers, babies, smiling families, and people in love is often inane or disingenuous, and the awful thing is that this bad artwork makes the happy stuff itself seem fake. As artists we can get scared of making art about the things that are most precious to us: we don't want to make something bad, and we don’t want those parts of ourselves to be vulnerable. So we make low-risk cynical sad little stories, and we stop trying to imagine a kinder world.
As far as I can tell, Fütchi Perf is a comic about the good stuff, the best and most precious stuff. It’s a small oddball homage to community, solidarity, and joy. And it feels honest, it feels true, and weirdest of all it feels almost within reach. How does Czap do it? And is it important to do?
Fütchi Perf is, I think, about:
• A magical future version of Cleveland where everything is Better
• A government-funded autonomous think tank of hyper-radical young artists, fashionistas and activists.
• People being hardcore good to one another.
I am not 100% sure, though, because Fütchi Perf is difficult to read. It’s episodic, and extremely disjointed. I am pretty sure there are no reoccurring characters. I am pretty sure that most of the slang – and there’s a lot of slang – is made up. The page layouts are manic full-bleed information overloads. There’s very little story. Instead we get flashes: a dance club, a house party, a mystical moment on a subway; artists at work, a punk concert, friends naked at a beach; walking in the snow, laughing while crying, reaching out, holding on to one another.
In Jorge Luis Borges’ beautiful lecture series, This Craft of Verse, he says:
Arguments convince nobody. They convince nobody because they are presented as arguments. Then we look at them, we weigh them over, and we decide against them. But when something is merely said or - better still - hinted at, there is a kind of hospitality in our imagination. We are ready to accept it.
Fütchi Perf’s impenetrability is an effective & generous trick. Struggling to parse the comic makes you feel like you came up with Czap’s ideas yourself. The feelings of love you come to while untangling the comic are hard won, so you trust them. The happy world we see in Fütchi Perf is a puzzle Czap lets you solve on your own.
When parts of this almost-utopian puzzle are unresolvable, Czap slips past them with a slight of hand. A chapter addressing the real-world energy needs of Magic Cleveland starts with a frustrating montage of vague fantastic machinery, but then it shifts to images of people in their homes with this odd non sequitur: “Now you can run for days on a single good memory. And you can give this happiness to others.” The suspicious feeling you get from the unrealistic sci-fi machines is released. Czap refuses to give a fake solution to the problem, and stubbornly brings us back around to the weird mystical potential of solidarity again.
So Fütchi Perf feels true because it doesn’t have the empty-calorie easiness or the didactic utopianism of a lot of the “happy” imagery we’re used to. It also stands against the normative homogenous Aryan smack of classic utopias like Eden, Asgard, and Lothlorien. Czap’s Magic Future Cleveland is hyper-diverse. People of color are the majority in this world. There’s every body type. Gender presentation is all over the map. The body hair situation is impressive. It’s a physical world, of flesh and blood. And unlike the kind of “happy” imagery that slides into kitsch, not everyone here is smiling all the time. Czap’s characters yell & sweat, they speak honestly & openly. They cry a lot, usually with joy, but real hot tears. Their joy isn’t easy, & that makes it familiar.
Fütchi Perf is about the good stuff, and it’s about a world where the good stuff has been allowed to grow & flourish & the bad stuff has been fought against and maybe, even, beaten back. It’s about a kind of utopia, but a realistic utopia, built for human beings, not gods or elves. It’s built for us. It needs to be built by us.
I’m forgiving of cynicism. It’s an effective shield against a world that will certainly hurt you, and it’s a crutch I’ve leaned on for most of my life. But it’s a crutch I think we lean on far too heavily, and I’m glad for art like Fütchi Perf that sneakily, confusingly, points toward a better way.
Disclaimer: Kevin contributed to Fantagraphics's Kickstarter for my book, and we are friends on Twitter.