Monday, April 25, 2016

The Oven

The Oven is a pretty short book, but it sure packs in a lot of interesting ideas. The plot focuses on Syd and Eric, a young couple who have left their totalitarian bubble city, where the government dictates who can and cannot have children, to live more deliberately in a utopian, desert community. There, they plan to settle down, farm, and have their own family, but the reality is way more complicated than planned.
In this future, the environment is treacherous, and the sun will literally fry you if you stay out unprotected. The couple has to learn to do things in pretty primitive fashion, from getting their food to making clothes. They meet their neighbors, a hippie Earth mama named Maggie, her husband Bear, and their slightly grating children. I think their relationship opens up a bunch of potentially interesting points about gender roles, parenting, and the socioeconomic politics of living an eco-friendly life versus being a sort of eco-tourist.
Of course there are complications, and Syd and Eric's resolve gets tested multiple ways. When I talked about this book with my graphic novel class, some of the feedback I heard was about how this book played out a bunch of expected gender situations, such as where the woman gets to deal with circumstances while the man gets to pick and choose when to be serious. I can see that point, but I still feel this book has a lot of interesting aspects that make it ripe for discussion, especially about what constitutes freedom and how it is exercised. Additionally, I was certainly impressed by the economy of the artwork and story. I felt the story just purred along, and much was established and happened in a short amount of space.

This is an impressive graphic novel from Sophie Goldstein, a recent graduate from the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont and Ignatz Award winner. She has published one graphic novel prior, Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell, a webcomic compilation collaboration with writer Jenn Jordan. She speaks a lot more about The Oven and her career in this interview.

The Oven won two categories at the 2015 Ignatz Awards: Outstanding Graphic Novel and Outstanding Comic, so it should come as no surprise that it has received quite a bit of praise from reviewers. Laura Sneddon called it "perfectly paced" and added that "the subtleties within demand re-reading." Tom Murphy wrote, "Using an economy of narrative and graphic style, Goldstein creates a powerful story that forces readers to question their responses without offering any easy answers." Zainab Akhtar concluded that it was "another strong and complex entry into Goldstein’s oeuvre."

The Oven was published by Adhouse Books, and they offer a preview and more here. There are profanity, some nudity, and adult situations in this book, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to handle those things.

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