Friday, January 14, 2005

Twisting the Knife - Skyscrapers of the Midwest

Clearly, no two people lived identical childhoods.

People had very different experiences. Some people were popular, some were not. Some people had family problem, some did not.

With that said, I believe there are a certain amount of childhood events that, if not literally universal, are pretty close to it.

An embarrassing thing happening at school.

Your parents doing something embarrassing.

Your younger sibling being annoying.

Your older sibling thinking you are annoying.

Basically all these events that, as a child, seem to be really big deals, and even when you look back at them today, you recall that same feeling of how important these events were.

Well, in the new collection by AdHouse of Joshua Cotter's mini-comics, Skyscrapers of the Midwest, we see an assortment of stories that recall these childhood events.

And if thinking of these embarrassing moments in our past sometimes feels like a knife in our side, then what Cotter does in this comic is twist that knife, and make the pain exquisitely felt.

The main stars of the story are two brothers in the early 80s in the Midwest. The conceit is that the brothers are drawn as anthropomorphic animals. Which is a conceit I have never really gotten behind. Even Spiegleman in Maus II sort of mocked the concept, as in Maus II it is clear that the animal faces are just masks for people, masks that Spiegleman thinks he is using because of a fear to get too close to the story.

I do not believe that is what Cotter is doing here, but still, it is a strange conceit. Heck, I do not even know what animal they are supposed to be. Anyone know for sure? Someone told me they are supposed to be cats, but they look more like dogs to me...but not totally.

In either event, whatever they are, Cotter draws them well. But as good as his art is (and it IS good), his strength is certainly his storytelling abilities.

From the fat kid who turns his playground embarassment into an avenue for fun with his imagination (to typically disastrous results), to the abusive father, to the visit to Grandmothers, to the kid who has an embarrassing "accident" at camp, to the kid who does not want to go to Church, and finally, to the kid who has to tell his mother that the "cool" present she bought him will only get him mocked at school....Cotter doesn't just drag out and intensify the trauma of these situations, he manages to make them frightingly realistic. He has the dialogue all down pat. He has the characterizations all down pat.

The book also contains parodies of advertisements and letter pages. There is some particularly harsh ones of cigarette ads. The letter columns are funny, as the person answering them gets steadily more depressed and drunk. Plus, there are amusing ads for random other products.

All in all, while Cotter almost always goes for the painful joke, he does so with a steady and almost surgeon-like quality, so the book reads very well.

It may not be a happy book, but it's certainly an accomplished one.

And at only $5 for the AdHouse collection of the two mini-comics, it is really really worth the money.


Blogger Ed Cunard said...

It's surely a very handsome book. AdHouse is quickly becoming one of my favorite publishers.

1/14/2005 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

Can someone explain to me what the "mini" part of mini comics means? Are they called mini comics because they're smaller in physical size than a standard single issue? That's what I assumed when I'd see people talk about them online. I've never actually seen one, because I don't live where anyone actually makes them.

1/14/2005 09:51:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Brad, a mini-comic is just a "self-published" comic.

And by self-published, I basically mean photocopied pages stapled together and sold at conventions or local comic shops.


1/15/2005 01:43:00 AM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

What's mini about that? Besides the circulation? I was hoping it was the size of a wallet or something. My fantasies, dashed again. Anyway, that tomfoolery aside, this sounds good, and I'll look for it.

1/15/2005 10:40:00 PM  
Blogger Ed Cunard said...

I've seen minicomics small as a box of matches and as big as... well, big. Like a magazine...

1/16/2005 01:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Huh. Sounds cool. I'll see if my shop has it. Comic shops in Michigan are a helluvalot worse than the Seattle ones.

And, originally, mini-comics were eight or sixteen page fold-overs. And a lot still are. Hence, mini-comics.

1/17/2005 04:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you liked it. Enjoyed your review, too.

I don't wanna say "I told ya so," but...

1/20/2005 09:22:00 PM  

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