Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 323 (12/23) -- American Elf, Book Two by James Kochalka

I covered the big-picture stuff about James Kochalka's daily journal comic American Elf earlier this year, when I reviewed the third collection as Book-A-Day #61, so go back there if you missed it the first time around. This is the second collection of the strip, bringing together the 731 strips that Kochalka drew and posted during 2004 and 2005, and it's much the same thing as the third volume. (Only, you know, earlier.)

American Elf, Book Two starts when Kochalka already has more than five years of daily personal comics under his belt, so he's already entirely confident in his style and has a well-tested sense of which moments and thoughts will work as a four-panel strip.

As with the third volume, it's a mixture of work concerns and home life -- but Kochalka is a cartoonist and musician, so he works at home a lot of the time, so strips can be about both working on a cartoon book and watching his then-infant son Eli. (I may be more of a sucker for the Eli strips than most readers are, since I have two sons of my own -- they're a couple of years older than Eli, but I remember the rampaging-toddler days well.) Kochalka is a moody guy, and realizes it in these strips -- there's a loose sequence of days when he decides to be happy, and to stop (or to try to stop) yelling at his family for no reason, but, like most of us, he doesn't always live up to what he wants to do.

Diaries fall into two main categories: those that are interesting because the diarist did important, interesting things, or was around when important things were done, on the one hand, and those that are worth reading because the diarist can take everyday events and make them interesting. Kochalka is mostly on the second side; he does have some rock shows, and flies for book signings and pitch meetings with TV executives, but the strip isn't about how awesome those things are, but about how the shower in the place he's staying in LA makes a different noise on his skull, or how he forgot he had a concert one night. American Elf makes good reading, either day-by-day as it's posted, or in collections like this, because it's one distinctive American life -- Kochalka's only slightly odd, perhaps an elf, but one living in Burlington, Vermont, and getting up in the middle of the night (even after a rock show) because the baby's crying.

Each strip is pleasant, but, like many strips, American Elf gains strength and energy as it goes -- like a fiction strip, knowing the characters and their relationships makes it both funnier and more touching. And Kochalka is still a master at both distilling cartoon-able moments from his everyday life and drawing them in that instantly recognizable, cartoony style of his.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

No comments:

Post a Comment