Thursday, May 03, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #123: Boundless by Jillian Tamaki

I never know how to write about short stories. I spent years back in my SFBC days writing reports on books of short fiction, but that style wouldn't work here -- one line to define the book, and then intense focus on the detailed plot of each story, making sure to get every name and detail in, with any quality/editorial comments saved for the end. And I rarely think there's some single overarching theme for a book of stories -- only if the author carefully explains it, in title or front matter or giant flashing neon letters -- so I don't have that to guide me.

Instead I muddle. Today, I'm going to be muddling through Boundless, a collection of short comics stories by Jillian Tamaki, author of Supermutant Magic Academy and artist of Skim and This One Summer. It collects nine comics stories, most of which originally appeared on

The first and last pieces -- "World-Class City" and "Boundless" -- are clearly different from the rest. They run the opposite way on the page, and are less driven by narrative -- "World-Class City" in particular is a meditation rather than a story. The rest are more or less traditional comics narratives, somewhere in the intersection between kitchen-sink and the fantastic. A woman becomes obsessed with her doppelganger on "mirror Facebook," particularly as the two lives diverge. Another woman grows smaller and smaller, for no reason anyone can discover. A man reminiscences about a TV show he produced in the '90s, which mixed sitcom with porn. A woman describes how a movie from her youth shadowed her love life, ominously. A couple deal with a bedbug infestation, with one of them secretly knowing why it happened. A woman works through her presentation of a skin-care product-slash-pyramid scheme. And a mysterious music file is first the center of a worldwide craze, and then a possibly apocalyptic cult.

All of them have the deftness and solidity of a perfectly crafted story -- they begin precisely and end pointedly, covering exactly what they need to and no more. Tamaki's art adjusts from story to story to fit that narrative -- inky panels here, small boxes with floating text there, a traditional grid or a looser arrangement depending on the story's needs.

It's a strong collection. That's no surprise, after Tamaki's past work. Both of those are things worth saying, though: she's done very good work before, and has done so again.

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