The need to be cool is lamented in Tales of Mere Existence. © Lev Yilmaz.

Tales of Mere Existence

Joined: September 07, 2006
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PLEASE READ: 2 of my videos, “What would penis do?” and “How I found out about girls” are CONSTANTLY being listed as “No longer available”. It is my suspicion that people are listing them as inappropriate or something, which is of course pretty absurd. I did not delete them, I’ve just listed them as private until I figure out what to do. -Lev

Name: Levni (Lev) Yilmaz


I am on MySpace, under: tales_of_mere_existence

Country: United States

Rereading old Life in Hell collections recently, I was please to find myself reacting exactly as I did when I first read them in the ’80s; at any given moment I was equally likely to drop the book and a) giggle or b) have a good brood. Matt Groening’s SoCal-blues comic creation could carry me along on the lilt of its amusing language and dorky graphics, and suddenly do a soul smackdown with Creative Self-Expression checklist items like “Write several unsold screenplays, then move back to Idaho.” A good man feeling bad, Groening as cartoonist in the early 1980s was simply a funny guy who wasn’t afraid to take his darkest thoughts to their logical conclusion.

Cartoonist/animator Lev walks a similar walk, although his talk, he insists, can be stilted, especially at parties. This Bay-area artist suffers the hipster disease so many of us share, the need to be cool in a crowd followed by the “I shoulda said” lament on the drive home. To heal himself he began doing Tales of Mere Existence, a series of films and comic strips at once universal and painfully personal. Tales of Mere Existence, a four-minute suite of short shorts currently making festival rounds and also available as a DVD from the artist’s IngredientX Website, is a collection of spoken narrations that Lev animated in real time by drawing caricatures in ink or pencil on some sort of translucent paper over glass, while filming it from the opposite side.

These micro-stories move fast and hurt good, as Lev goes for laughs in fearless ways that shock you even as you quietly nod your head in recognition. Unforgettable is a 45-second sequence called “Jealous” with frankly pornographic renderings of fourteen different couples copulating, under the narration “I try not to think about my ex-girlfriends too much, but when I do, I know that THIS is what Carol and her new boyfriend do and THIS is what Lisa and her boyfriend do and THIS is what Veronica and her boyfriend do and THIS is what Emily and her boyfriend do and THIS is what Mary and her boyfriend do and THIS is what Kara and her boyfriend do…”

Running the gamut from goofy to depressing, these introspective shorts dwell on subjects from guys who quote Monty Python to Tommy Hilfiger underwear, homemade haircuts, and the Theory of Popularity. Lev is a funny sombitch — go see his E.T.-related short 1982 on his Website and you’re sure to wish you had had him for a friend that year. Secure in the confidence that indeed he has the comedy chops, he has now, like all smart comic personalities, freed himself of them. Like Don Hertzfeldt’s Temporary Anesthetics and Scott Dikkers’ Jim’s Journal, Tales of Mere Existence is taking Lev beyond getting the gag to where he can focus on getting under the skin.

Taylor Jessen is a writer living in Burbank. On Saturdays he goes whale-tipping with a group of ne’er-do-well marine biologists.