Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Skyscrapers of the Midwest

I read a lot about comics and comic books, and one blog I consistently read is Comics Should Be Good, which features a lot of different viewpoints about many types of comics. I recall the head blogger there, Brian Cronin, writing about this series with a curious title a bunch of years back now, and I am finally getting to read it for myself. If you want to see what he has written in addition to what I am going to say, you can see him extolling the virtues of it here, here, here, here, and here.

This book contains a collection of mini-comics and comic books about an adolescent drawn as an  anthropomorphized cat, his younger brother, and the imaginative adventures they find themselves in. Now, I know this sounds all kinds of light and cheery, but this scene is not an imaginary magical dreamworld, though it does have some fantasy elements, like giant robots that sort of look like ROM. Although this book is clearly some form of memoir it is not really all that nostalgic either. It is evocative and powerful, bringing back many of the strong emotions of youth in brutal, yet empathic ways. Reading this book, it was difficult for me not to recall similar situations I found myself in when I was a kid, some painful and some humorous. For example, these three pages are from the sequence early on in the book, a birthday with a wonderful and horrible gift.

Although he loves the gift, the reality of his age and his social standing end up crushing any enjoyment, which is highlighted by juxtaposed sequences where we see his little brother having a great time just playing with the box the backpack came in. This entire opening narrative is available in the preview link below, and I suggest you go read it. What I admire most about this opening, and the book as a whole is how it is clearly realistic and truthful about the realities of growing up. Lots of people struggle with their families, loss, love, religion, and fitting in when they are younger. Not everyone grows up popular and accepted, and the pain and nuances of emotion in this book are both palpable and powerful. Not to say I found this book depressing, but it does what Marianne Moore wrote the best poetry does, namely depicting "imaginary gardens with real toads in them."

This was Joshua W. Cotter's debut comic, and the artwork certainly reflects his growth in that area over the course of the book. I admired the rawness and sketchiness of his lines as well as how he deftly tells stories and creates emotional impacts. He also created Driven By Lemons, a book containing an interesting mix of comics, sketches, and prose. He speaks more about his life, art, and work on Skyscrapers in this interview.

Reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. Comic Book Resources' Timothy Callahan remarked that "Cotter has created something true and meaningful about the experience of growing up, and it's a powerful story." Brian Heater called it "that rare critical mass of dynamic art and storytelling" and went on that "Cotter manages to capture the wonders and horrors of childhood, which are perhaps far more entwined than we’d wish to remember." Andrew Wheeler simply called it "a hidden gem of modern comics."

A preview and more about Skyscrapers of the Midwest can be found here from Adhouse Books.

This review wraps up Adhouse Month for me. I hope that you enjoyed my look at a publisher of diverse and wonderful books from a wide range of creators. Go check out their catalog, because I only scratched the surface of their output.

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