Monday, April 05, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 61 (4/5) -- American Elf, Book Three by James Kochalka

James Kochalka, like so many people, keeps a diary. Unlike most of them, he keeps it in public. And, almost uniquely, he does it in comics form -- generally a four-panel strip every single day. (Even more impressively, I just realized he's been doing it -- again, every single day -- since October of 1998. I'm not completely sure I've managed to sleep and eat every day since 1998, and Kochalka's done a comic all of those days.) This, as the title probably clued you in, is the third collection of that daily strip, covering the years 2006 and 2007 from beginning to end.

American Elf has the ordinariness of a good diary: it focuses mostly on small moments and conversations, things that can be encompassed within four panels and not feel like an excerpt or a piece of something larger. And so the strip mixes up all of Kochalka's lives -- cartoonist (of this strip, of children's books, of other projects), rock star (selling a song to Fox for a TV theme, getting dropped by his record label, playing shows), family man (his second son, Oliver, is born towards the end of this book). Each strip stands alone, as that one moment, but they also tie together -- reading more and more of American Elf, we watch Kochalka's first son Eli start growing up, and eavesdrop on Kochalka's marriage. (Like any creator worth his salt working in an autobiographical mode, Kochalka comes across as absolutely fearless, willing to put any part of his life at all into his strips -- it may not be precisely true, but Kochalka makes us believe it.)

You can read American Elf on the web, day by day -- I certainly do, and I recommend it to anyone interested in comics about real lives -- but it gains depth and power from a collection, unlike so many other diaries and journals (in comics or prose). Which means I need to go back and get the first two collections -- this is one of the major works of comics autobiography of our time.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
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Listening to: Apache Beat - Your Powers Are Magic
via FoxyTunes
 

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