Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Squirrel Mother Stories

Artist/Writer: Megan Kelso
Published by Fantagraphics Books

Often enough, I’ll pick up a comic just because it looks interesting. Such is the case with The Squirrel Mother Stories, a collection of short stories drawn over a several year period from Cartoonist Megan Kelso. There’s no overarching theme or plot connecting each comic, but there are a few similarities here and there. Almost all of the protagonists are young girls or middle aged women, and most of the stories deal with a personal issue the characters are facing. But the sheer scope of ideas makes it almost impossible to group together.

It’s nice to read a comic where things are more often implied rather than outright spelled out. Take the title story The Squirrel Mother; it takes a brief look into the life of a young mother, who feels like the world is moving on without her. The mother’s perspective is told through a series of short comics about a mother squirrel that’s written across the top of each page, whereas the main comic is told through the perspective of her daughter. It’s a neat little idea that effectively tells the same story from two perspectives. What I really like is that it doesn’t attempt to wrap things up; when the story ends the characters still have the same problems as before. It really is just a brief glimpse into the lives of a handful of characters.

The strangest comic of the series has to be the three part story of 18th century politician Alexander Hamilton. It’s strange to see a little history lesson of American politics in a book filled with otherwise fictional characters, but it’s a fun little read. My personal favourite however, is Meow Face. It’s a brief look into the life of a young girl when she stays with her unstable aunt. It’s the one story that genuinely moved me, especially considering that you never get to see anything resolved.

Kelso’s artwork is always simple and cartoonish, but there’s a lot of experimentation. She never sticks with one style or format, always switching up the panel layout and colour scheme. Sometimes the perspective of her characters seems a bit off, but it always seems intentional. More importantly though, she knows how to tell a story through actions rather than words, and that’s a big plus in my book.

I don’t think this book will blow anyone’s mind, but it’s a nice little read, and it’s appropriately priced. If you happen to see it, I'd at least reccomend giving it a flip through to see if you'd like it. I think it's the perfect palate cleanser if you're looking for something a bit different.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Artist/Writer: David Small
Published by W.W. Norton & Company

Stitches is easily the best graphic novel I’ve read this year. A memoir from long time artist David Small, who has illustrated quite a few picture books over the years, it covers key points from his childhood to his early adulthood. It deals with Small’s recovery from throat cancer, and the shaky relationship Small had with his family, particularly his oppressive mother. It’s a fascinating story about a young man’s struggles to find himself and break free from his restrictive family.

First off, the artwork is gorgeous. It’s weird, ink is such a major part of comics in general, but I’ve only really seen a few artists use the ink wash method, and never in this way. It brings about certain softness to it that I’m not sure I’ve seen in a comic before. I love the rushed look of certain panels, where background details are done with light brush strokes rather than detailed outlines, and I can’t help but feel like the greyscale colour palette is pretty much perfect for the mood of the story Small is trying to tell.

Small’s work in picture books has paid off in a big way; he’s a natural story teller and he knows how to work within the medium. His panel layouts are erratic and sometimes ill defined, but it’s never hard to follow them. It’s also nice that he’s able to work some pretty imaginative ideas into an otherwise straightforward story. Small uses dream sequences to help showcase his desire to break free or frustration towards his family. But Small doesn’t make the story one sided; he happily portrays his childhood self as a rude, grumpy kid who is prone to misbehave, or his teenage self as needlessly smug. It’s obvious that Small, at least at this stage of his life, no longer feels anger towards his family. He’s moved on, and it feels like this book is a big part of taking that step.

Stitches is the kind of book I’d show to someone who dismisses comics and graphic novels out of hand. In many ways it makes me feel like I did when I read Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis or Craig Thompson’s Blankets; I’m watching an artist explore their childhood and young adulthood through pictures and words, and I’m fascinated by how they stitch it all together. The reason why I’d probably give someone Stitches before either of those books is because it doesn’t feel like it takes as much work to read. Both Persepolis and Blankets are rather wordy, whereas I think Stitches is a little more interested in letting the artwork tell the story. In this case, I think that’s something that works strongly in its favour.

If you ever see this on shelves, I implore you to at least give it a flick through. It really is worth it.

A New Beggining

I'm starting anew, going back to square one, yadda yadda yadda.

Join me won't you, as I talk about the things I like. Things like comic books.