It’s a rough old world out there for an artist, and we all know it: navigating the ever-shifting 'information superhighway' was tricky enough from the word go, but now the digitized potholes of social media, cryptocurrency, NFTs, blockchains and the like have made the road even bumpier. Fortunately, for more than four years Finnish multimedia artist Jaakko Pallasvuo’s Avocado Ibuprofen comic strips on Instagram have served the dual role of primer on the issues facing content creators (digital or otherwise) for curious observers, and catch-all focal points of commiseration for those actually trying to make a living off the fruits of their imaginations and labor. Employing caustic wit, deadpan delivery, and a combination of 'low-fi' pixelated scrawl and appropriated imagery, Pallasvuo toes a fine line between 101-style exposition and veteran exasperation. The results are sometimes illuminating, sometimes depressing, sometimes hilarious, frequently all of the above, and almost always worth a person’s time.
The damn thing is, though, I’m just not sure how well they work collected together into a book.
It's not that Pallasvuo doesn’t do a fine job of articulating the thinking behind doing so in their introduction to Perfectly Acceptable’s newly-released bumper volume presenting the “best” of these strips - and not that the publisher doesn’t do their usual bang-up job in terms of care and presentation. On a purely tactile level, this horizontally-oriented partial compendium is a pleasing thing both to hold in one’s hands and to flip through, and the cover, featuring a reproduction of Mel Odom’s painting Gardenia Smoke, is both gorgeous and entirely apropos given the interior contents. But something is automatically lost in translation when a digital comic designed to be read in scrolling fashion makes the leap–or step backwards, depending on how you look at things–to the (admittedly beautifully) printed page. Because Pallasvuo’s comics concern themselves primarily with issues related to art, commerce, and 'life' in the digital 'world', this book feels like it can’t help but come up short when measured against the work’s original presentation. And fish-out-of-water syndrome is really only the half of it, I think: this book could also be viewed as having the whole less-is-more dynamic working against it.
I hesitate to use the term 'repetitious' here, as it’s too pointed and overly-critical, but it’s just a simple fact that Avocado Ibuprofen was created in piecemeal fashion; to my mind, it is far more effective when consumed as such. Perfectly Acceptable was wise to eschew chronological presentation in this volume in favor of a 'running order' that privileges thematic flow, but reading it all in one sitting as I did–while not a huge constraint on one’s time–is probably a case of too much all at once, and results in a more tonally oppressive experience than taking these in one-at-a-time (or even a couple at a time) necessarily would. Pallasvuo’s entirely understandable world-weariness simply subsumes everything in its path when it’s your mental meal for the day, rather than a snack.
Still, there’s an argument to be made that this 'piling on' by default offers readers a more honest accounting of what it means to try to scratch out a living as a jobbing freelancer in so-called “online creative spaces.” Those of us with the luxury to forget about this shit for a while are indeed privileged to be able to do so, while Pallasvuo and others in a similar position/predicament are stuck trying to keep their heads above water as the tumultuous tide of late-stage capitalism continues to rise around the islands of their ethics, ideals, time, and creative vision. You can’t blame an artist for needing to blow off steam - just be prepared, if you read this all in one go, for the book to feel like the comics equivalent of an annual airing of grievances ceremony.
My goal here, then, isn’t to dissuade you from reading Avocado Ibuprofen, but to present the pros and cons of the different ways you can read so as to hopefully facilitate a more fully-informed consumer choice on your part. Pallasvuo’s work is incisive, earnest, illustrative, funny bordering on the hilarious, and above all, necessary - but, as with almost all art in this day and age, it’s available in more than one iteration, and your mileage with each will vary according to your own tastes, habits, and preferences as a reader. I’ll continue to bob and weave in and out of it via social media for reasons already stated, but this new book is extremely well-done, and if your appetite for this sort of content is more voracious than my own, there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy it quite a bit. There’s no right or wrong way to experience these strips, it’s just a matter of personal preference - which is a bit of a cop-out thing for a critic to say, I freely admit, but hey: we’re living in an age stuffed to the gills with inconvenient truths, and Pallasvuo is an astute commentator upon them in any format.