There’s one definite pattern in my reading of comics that has shifted since starting this website 9+ years ago: I don’t read as many of the titles from the “big” publishers.Â It’s odd, as I was an avid reader of most things D &Q/Fantagraphics/Top Shelf put out back in the day, but between the piles of free minis (three cheers for review copies!) and publisher who do send me their books, I just don’t get around to the big three as much as I’d like to.Â That might be changing, as the library here in Champaign has a much better selection than the one in Columbus, so I get to answer on of the many nagging comic book questions in the back of my head: “Whatever happened to Jordan Crane?”Â He’s done other books, as you can see on his website, but I was thrilled to see he made the leap to Fantagraphics.Â They have a very low bullshit thresh, after all.Â This book blurs the line between being kid’s book and a graphic novel, although I suppose you could say that it’s both.Â It’s the story of a young boy named Simon who is late for school and his fat cat Jack. After unsuccessfully trying to sneak into class, Simon discovers a staircase that leads up straight up, seemingly to nowhere.Â Jack isn’t thrilled with the idea, but the two of them go up the staircase, run into a group of misinformed birds and learn that they can walk on clouds. They find a cloud who is sad because it can’t fly so they give it a few pointers and also encounter a group of storm clouds before getting in some serious trouble.Â If you’re thinking this sounds exactly like a kid’s book and not at all like a graphic novel, well, you’re sort of right.Â I’ve never been completely comfortable with the term “graphic novel” anyway.Â For the adult enthusiast, the use of color here is brilliant in all senses of the word, and there enough cute turns of phrase to make most folks smile, at the very least.Â But yeah, it’s a children’s book more than anything else, complete with the “This book belongs to: ____” on the inside front cover.Â It’s up to you to decide whether or not that’s a good thing; I generally prefer the stuff more geared to adults, and it looks like Jordan has kept up on that end of things too with his other comics.Â If you’re simply starved for color in the dreary black and white world of small press comics, this could be a welcome antidote, or if you’re looking to get your kids into comics by quality artists where they can eventually grow into their older work.Â Parents, it’s your call.Â For the rest of us childless heathens, maybe stick to some of his other stuff, unless you’ve somehow managed to stay a kid at heart…Â $19 (for hardcover).
God bless Lowjinx. I don’t know if anybody has ever come up with the concept for this book before, but it’s about time. In case you can’t read the cover, it’s an anthology of childhood drawing from some of the best small press cartoonists around. Included here are James Kochalka, Sam Henderson, Ivan Brunetti, Nick Bertozzi, Greg Cook, Tony Consiglio, Jordan Crane, Pete Sickman-Garner, Jesse Fuchs, Megan Kelso, Alex Robinson, Kevin Scalzo, Tom Spurgeon, Eric Reynolds, Steve Weissman, and, of course, Kurt Wolfgang. Once again, with this book, it’s probably not going to appeal to many people who don’t already know the work of those cartoonists. But for those people, this is absolutely priceless. It’s $6, if you like the work of these people go to the Top Shelf website and beg them to sell you a copy. OK, I should tell you a little bit about it first, even though if that list of names didn’t sell you, I don’t know what I could possibly say to convince you. Eric Reynolds (is he even on my page yet?) had a mostly text story about the Fantastic Four that’s hilarious, Sam Henderson hasn’t changed much over the years except now he swears more, Nick Bertozzi has a great story about a dog who’s learning to roller disco, and Tony Consiglio… aw, just buy it. I don’t want to ruin anything else for you, and everything in here is fascinating when compared to their later work. Don’t believe me? Fine, look at this:
OK, I just have to ask: what happened to the cat? Seriously, was that part of the story just forgotten about or are we supposed to assume the worst? Oh, sorry, I kind of started in the middle. Anything he does is going to be compared to The Last Lonely Saturday in my book, and this both falls short of that book and improves on it by leaps and bounds. The subtle human interactions, like the bit with the Mom trying to get a job, are incredibly accurate and poignant. The ability of the the child to believe in magic so easily was also brilliant. It’s just… I don’t know, maybe it is just about the cat. See, there’s this sick cat in the book, and it’s a big deal, and it’s just kind of left hanging, unless I missed it. I don’t think so, because I scoured the book when I was done to see if a couple of pages stuck together or something, but no such luck. The bottom line is that it’s a good book, well worth a read for a wide variety of reasons. I just don’t like having important things left over to worry about…
In a perfect world, it wouldn’t matter how much this book cost. As it is, if I hadn’t ordered it through the mail sight unseen, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it. Why? Because it’s tiny and it’s mostly wordless, and it’s $8. Don’t get me wrong, it looks beautiful. I’m happy that I have it now for the sheer design alone. But this honestly could have been a mini comic, or a less expensive regular sized thing. If we’re going to give up on anybody who isn’t a cartoonist actually buying comics, then fine, continue to put out books that are tiny and cost $8, and we can all sit in our clubhouse for the rest of our lives, secure in the knowledge that we’re right and the rest of the world will never get it. If we want regular folk to start reading these, they have to, somehow, be made more affordable. Paradoxically, the design of this book makes it stand out on a shelf, but the price tag would drive away all but the most diehard of fans.
Climbing down off my soapbox now, this was a moving, vibrant piece of work. The story of a man who goes out to visit the grave of his dead wife, it’s over almost before you know it. But what you see here sticks with you. Anybody out there ever think about getting old and visiting the graves of your loved ones? Think about it, then read this again. We’re none of us that far from it, no matter how young we are. I hope he does more outside of Non (which has to be the best anthology currently going), and I hope he makes a bigger book. Regardless of my qualms about the price, this is a worthwhile read that makes any collection of comics automatically better. If you have $8 laying around, buy this. It might take a few months (trust me, I know), but it’s worth the effort.
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