Since 2001, Ben Snakepit has drawn an autobiographical three-panel comic strip every day. Initially he self-published these comics in zine format before they were anthologized in book form.
At the start of his fifteen-year (and counting) run, Snakepit was less grounded/more aimless than he is now. Back then, he played in more bands, burned through apartments, smoked way more pot, drank himself sick. These elements are still present in Manor Threat – a hardcore pun on the Austin suburb he now calls home – but in moderation. Gone are the video store days of yore, when Snakepit would close up shop, see bands play, black out, and drag his carcass back in for another round. Part of this is age: the man’s in his forties now, after all. The other part is responsibility. He’s married, with a dog and a newly minted mortgage. To keep afloat, Ben works in the printing industry, where he still makes an hourly wage but has health insurance.
To readers unfamiliar with the fifteen years of previous work – backstory, if you will, though that term isn’t quite right – this capsule of a life in progress might sound unremarkable, even boring. But part of the gravitas of Snakepit’s series is the incremental depiction of such changes. At the outset, the music lifestyle he lived made for great reading: summers of roadie travel yielded strip after strip of high-impact partying and recovery (and not a little rueful head-shaking for readers, whether or not they had themselves partaken in similar adventures). Snakepit sometimes made admittedly dumb choices precisely because they would make for better reading. Now, with a loving, patient wife and loyal dog in the equation, the adventure for its own sake takes a backseat to a more humdrum existence. His band plays three or so shows a year rather than driving in loops of the country or flying to Japan (as he did during his tenure as J Church’s bass player). Small cycles of work and play are punctuated by mechanical trouble, medical ailments, dental emergencies. You know, life stuff.
These glacial changes are to be expected, even savored. To that end, Snakepit seems happier than in the past, when dating and band drama clotted his days. The new responsibility of home ownership brings with it new obligations and headaches, certainly, but stability suits him well in this collection – he starts brewing beer, even watches the Super Bowl (despite years of avowed hatred of sports).
So, if this slow drift into – for lack of a better word – adulthood is to be expected, why read? The daily struggles to implement and accept change are impactful. So much of the material drawn in his previous compilations was the product of pattern, rote repetition rather than conscious choice. Why get high? Why not get high? It was easy, because of lifestyle and circumstances. Now, the urges are still there, but he resists them, and with purpose – it’s fascinating to see Snakepit’s campaign to lose forty pounds, complete with exercise bike sessions in front of the television and calorie counting.
This new restraint manifests itself in his storytelling. The previous collection, published in 2013, contains myriad references to Star Trek – Ben’s a big sci-fi fan. Except there was more to it than that: throughout the set of comics, the show’s name is a coded reference to attempts at getting pregnant. Similarly, Ben spends time ‘hanging out in the garage’ after he and his wife buy their house. After a time, he reveals that this is code for smoking weed. He mentions that he quit for a while, got stressed because of his new job, and started again. In the case of the garage, there’s some skulking shame in such panels, just as there’s some veiled hope in his Star Trek references, both pre- and post-reveal.
These veiled incremental references point to an accrual of wisdom – sometimes it’s better to wait than to blurt, a far cry from Snakepit’s delivery of yore, when such trumpets were his sole method of delivery. They also demonstrate the maturity that longtime readers have seen unfold three panels at a time since the beginning. For those who are new to Ben Snakepit’s work, the hypnotism of days unfolding rhythmically and the small triumphs and disappointments which ebb and flow should prove ample incitement not only to keep reading, but to journey back to the beginning, such as it was, to see the whole story.
Manor Threat: Snakepit Comics 2013-2015
by Ben Snakepit
Microcosm Press; 288 p.