Brooklyn’s Last Secret
Creator: Leslie Stein
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
On first blush, Brooklyn’s Last Secret — the new book from cartoonist Leslie Stein, out now via Drawn & Quarterly — seems like a pretty straight-forward tour diary. It follows the fictional band, Major Threat, a group that is Brooklyn-based (as the title implies) and has a relatively long-if-unremarkable history. While the singer is new to the group — and a spry 26 years old or so — the other three members of the band are all over or pushing 40. They have some fans, a recent backstory that makes for interesting narrative texture, and a sort of unglamorous cruising altitude where they now exist in terms of notoriety. Major Threat can and does draw a modest crowd (usually), but the breakout most musicians hope for is, at this point, increasingly unlikely to ever come.
That’s the conceptual foundation for Stein’s new book, and it’s a good one. All the small details for the cast and their band Stein builds on top of that foundation are well-realized. We don’t learn all that much about their music, but we don’t need to: we get all the insight we need from fan reaction and the circumstances in which they find themselves.
For most of the first act — and, perhaps, even the first half — the book feels like almost a fictionalized memoir, like Stein is using her vast talents for creating diary comics in a slightly fictionalized way, emphasizing humor and absurdities from what are presumably real-life tour stories, variations of which she has perhaps experienced herself.
Once the reader becomes oriented to that, though, the book starts to grow into something new. It remains a (mostly) fun tour romp with a delightful band — loaded with gags, from a member taking MDMA instead of his vitamins, to every last person in the Bay Area asking the band if they’re going to “get a hike in” while they’re in San Francisco. Brooklyn’s Last Secret, however, might have felt a bit one-note if it was content to just move from gag to gag. But with its focus on characters — as well as the complex relationships between characters — it elevates to so much more.
All of the characters are well done, but as an example, I want to talk about Paul, a mostly-silent virtuoso to whom life comes easy, be it eating his weight in Chicago-style food, using his shlumpy middle age looks to dupe cops, or having a secret fortune from his younger days as a pro skateboarder. I’m almost the same age as these characters, and I’ve spent time in Brooklyn, in Austin, and other hipster millennial enclaves. In these places, someone like Paul (as well as the rest of the cast) is sort of inexplicably omnipresent. And the book is loaded with familiar small touches like that for a certain type of — probably mid-30s — music fan or creative.
Ultimately, the book brought me back to a time of my life when I measured things by the days between my next show. At the start. As the characters became deeper, it started to also evoke my current creative experiences with comics and writing. Brooklyn’s Last Secret is a tour diary comic, sure, but it’s also a story about artistic people who never necessarily “made it.” These are people who pay a price to continue to do what they love, although pay is maybe the wrong word. It shouldn’t be a pejorative; the book certainly doesn’t judge it that way. It just tells a story of what it takes to stay loyal to your creative interests.
As is perhaps evident by now, I adored Brooklyn’s Last Secret. It made me laugh, made me contemplate my younger days, and made me take stock of why I continue to be involved in creative circles. It was, simply put, a delight.
Brooklyn’s Last Secret is available now.