Monday, July 05, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 152 (7/5) -- Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran

Some stories are easy to pick up a little bit at a time -- you can jump in anywhere, get to know what's going on pretty quickly, and move forward immediately. (These are not necessarily inferior works -- it takes a lot of skill to create a story that's both interesting and easily accessible -- but they tend to prioritize simple, obvious characterizations and stock situations. Think of every sitcom or legacy newspaper strip that you detest -- and some of the ones that you like, as well.) More complicated stories need to be approached more carefully -- like a train, there are certain places where you can get on board, and many more places where you'd just stare at it passing you by.

Octopus Pie, a webcomic in (so far) twenty-four chapters, is a story of the second kind -- I'd tried reading it once, from a random link, dropping backward strip by strip, and that was a bad plan: I'd walked into Act 2 of a play, or started reading a mystery as the detective announced "I've called you all together for a reason." I was confused, and then it was time to go back to work, so I filed Octopus Pie mentally under "try again someday."

And that someday just came: Villard has published the first two years of Octopus Pie strips in one trade paperback, under the subtitle "There Are No Stars In Brooklyn." (It also features a brand-new short story, not available anywhere else as far as I can see, about the two main characters when they were very young.) This is a strip that works best if read from the beginning: creator Meredith Gran had a stable, mature art style from the beginning, and hers is also one of the rare periodic comics in any medium with characters that grow and change from the things that happen to them.

Octopus Pie is primarily the story of Eve Ning, a grumpy young woman living in Brookyln and working in a natural-foods market. (Thankfully, it's not about how she's wasting her life, or her vague existential ennui, or any other trendy ailments of the dispossessed twentysomething.) Gran populates the strips with characters who are just a bit broader and funnier than real people -- the most slapsticky is Eve's roommate, Hanna -- and runs them through humorous stories of usually about a dozen double-height strips.

Gran has a fine cartoonist's eye for just the right degree of exaggeration, and the matching ability to tell stories that skirt the edge of plausibility but always stay both believable and big enough to matter. So start at the beginning and give Octopus Pie a try -- either on the website, or in this book -- if you enjoy classic newspaper-style cartooning, in a format expansive enough to tell a real story but smart enough to be funny on a regular basis.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Holmes - Not a Political Song
via FoxyTunes

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