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Graphic Novelty²

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Drawn and Quarterly

Off Season

Off Season is a book of its time, detailing the inner life of a working-class man with a crumbling marriage during the election season that put Trump in the White House. Despite the characters being anthropomorphic, Mark and his concerns were so very human.

Mark and his wife are separated, with Mark struggling as a building contractor, as his main client can’t or won’t pay him. He is barely covering the bills, compared to his wife who stays in the family home and is buffered by family money. His two children play him off Lisa, especially his bratty daughter, and he struggles with being consistent with them. Somewhat estranged from his brother and his parents, Mark tries to reconnect with his parents, to discover his mother has cancer.

Surprisingly poignant, this story of a disintegrating marriage was very real and at times raw. I’ve always been the type to wonder about other people’s lives, as Facebook and Instagram tend to paint people as perfect and always happy. You never know what is going on behind closed doors, and this graphic novel shows both the messiness and the sweetness of family life. Mark is grappling with his role as a father, son and husband in the new reality of Trump’s America, and while some of his choices are not wise, you can’t help but root for him.

The ending is odd, and while there is a nugget of hope that Mark and Lisa’s marriage might be saved, the way in which they do so was off-putting to me. I had to restrain myself from being too judgy, as my own marriage is solid, but other marriages might need to find ways to make it work in ways that I could not envision myself. However, despite me not connecting with the ending, it somehow worked for the tone of this book.

Every page contains two panels done in greyscale. I think this simple panel construction suits the story well- straight forward and to the point. The pacing was well done, with several vignettes of family life that pulled at my heartstrings. At first, I wondered why the characters were portrayed as dogs, but the somewhat simply drawn portrayals let you connect with the character-driven story without extraneous details. This story of a family during an unsettling cultural moment was very well done and will make you reflect on your own family during off-season times in your life.

-Nancy

Hot Dog Taste Test

Warning: cranky review ahead! I have to admit, I would never have picked up this book on my own, but it is on my reading list for a graphic novels class I am taking at Dominican University. Did I have an epiphany after reading it, and am thankful I was forced to go out of my comfort zone? No…for it was a really weird book.

In fact, I wouldn’t even label it as a graphic novel; it is comic book with loosely related themes throughout it. Such themes are: food, cute animals, and peeing all over yourself. The summary states that it will skewer foodie subculture, but that’s not what I took away from it. But a fault I have always had is my practicality. Sometimes I miss the big picture, because I get hung up on a certain detail that I can’t let go. I will be interested to go to class on Sunday and hear what my classmates have to say about this quirky book.

So back to the book- the illustrations are just not very attractive. Now, I am not against pictures that are sketchy and capture the essence of the idea, even if they are not truly very precise in nature. I enjoyed Hyperbole and A Half and Adulthood is a Myth, two novels that were uncluttered and simple in layout. But both those books organized the story and/or strips into a cohesive narrative, and I feel this book just flits from one topic to another. Part travel log, part food diary, part surreal dream fragments; this book is hard to categorize. The author, Lisa Hanawalt, obviously loves animals, and draws many animals in an anthropomorphized manner, with birds being her specialty.

Before you think I hated the book, I didn’t, for I laughed out loud in several areas. In regards to the aforementioned peeing all over yourself comment, she just draws what many people (or maybe just me and the author) think about while we use public restrooms. My college friends and I are planning a girls weekend to some Michigan wineries, so when I saw the menstrual barcycle picture, I imagined my friends (we can get a bit rowdy when we’ve had a few drinks) making fools of ourselves. That image alone made the book worthwhile for me.

So if you can’t tell already, I’ve had a crappy day and am taking it out on this book. Sorry, not sorry, Hot Dog Taste Test. The author had a wicked sense of humor, and I think I’d be her friend, but I just wasn’t sold on the format of the book.

-Nancy

 

Beautiful Darkness

Macabre.
Unsettling.
Gruesome.
I loved it.

This seemingly sweet graphic novel starts out with a lovely young woman having tea with a prince, and it is going splendidly well, that is until great globs of red stuff starts falling on them. As everyone runs for safety, the view shifts away for a long shot, and you see little creatures pouring out of the orifices of a dead girl. What?!

Aurora takes charge and finds food and shelter for all the little doll like creatures, and tries to befriend the woodland animals. They all work together and it seems like utopia (well, except for the decomposing human girl in the woods) for awhile. But all that shines is not gold. Soon the veneer of politeness starts to wear off, and what at first seemed like a fantasy story slips towards horror.

Another doll Zelie emerges as a leader, with many catering to her every cruel whim. Zelie’s manipulations lead to many of the tiny beings turning on one another to stay in her favor and some accepting their deaths willingly. Even Aurora falls prey to her for a bit, turning against her friend the mouse, when in actuality she is upset on how she fell for Zelie’s deceit.

Only a few besides Aurora survive outside Zelie’s influence- Jane, who is independent and moves away, and an unstable doll who hides in the skull of the girl eating maggots and slipping into insanity. Aurora eventually follows Jane to a mysterious woodcutter’s cottage, whom you will wonder about- what is his connection to the dead girl? When Zelie and her dwindling entourage arrive at the cottage, Aurora then makes a radical decision.

Allegories abound in this book- make of it what you will. Of this I am certain, you will leaf through it several times, reading even deeper meaning into the story each time you look carefully at the watercolor panels. Enjoy….

-Nancy

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