Thursday, September 23, 2010


What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Emitown (Image, 2010)

I got a request for review from writer and artist Emi Lenox, which was nice. I don't get enough of those, I'd say. So yesterday, the fellow who was here to clean our air conditioning ducts suggested that we might want to box up the cat and step outside while the smelly anti-mold treatment worked its way through the house. My wife and daughter took that as their cue to hit the road and shop, and I sat down on the front steps with the cat and the laptop and read about the first hundred pages of Emitown, a 400-page collection of some of her daily diary strips. I found it so fun and engaging that I was blissfully unaware of this blasted cat yodelling in her crate for what turned out to be a long time.

Having said that, four hundred is a heck of a lot of pages for a project like this. I certainly appreciate Image Comics and Lenox giving great value for money, but this is not the sort of book that anybody will want to read in one go, no matter how sharp the cartooning is. I do like Lenox's style a lot, although it amuses me the most - and this might sound monstrous of me - when she's drawing herself bawling and upset. There's a bit towards the end when she gets a speeding ticket, a parking ticket and a flat tire one right after the other, and while a part of me was sympathetic to her plight, another part was guffawing since the accompanying artwork looked so funny.

Autobiographical comics seem like they must be a tricky thing to review, because the plot is somebody's actual life and choices. I don't know that this is either fair or sensible to "review." I'm pushing forty with a teenage son; I doubt that Lenox really wants to know what I think about all that coffee that she drinks when she only has $3.72 in her checking account. "The protagonist of the story constantly complains of money issues while simultaneously spending an insane amount on unnecessary items that only end up upsetting her," one might say. (And she has a dog! Why do people with no money have dogs?! And get off my lawn and quit dancin' like that!)

To be honest - and admittedly one of my very few experiences in this genre is the amusing Dar by Erika Moen, who makes a cameo appearance in this book - I don't see the attraction anymore in documenting your life like this, as I seem to have passed the point in my life where I care to revisit much of it. My LiveJournal, past and present, used to be incredibly important to me, but sometime this year I just got so completely fed up with a project that I started of moving entries from my old one to the one that I've used the last four years that even the most innocuous incident just aggravated me. I didn't care how well I thought I wrote whatever it was that I was rereading, it was history and needed to be buried. This was certainly coloring my experience with Lenox's book. Again, it's sharp cartooning and occasionally both very funny and silly, but it also struck me as sometimes unnecessary. Perhaps everyone's diaries are stories that will always read best as they are unfolding.

That said, one trick that Lenox uses proves to be really amusing. There are some supporting characters in the "narrative," a little army of "romance cats" that take the place of details that the artist might have otherwise spilled about dates that she's been on. At one point, she breaks this habit and reminds anybody with whom she might have gone to dinner that they have been asked not to read Emitown and to please stop if they are, but otherwise, we're left to guess what might have happened based on the helmeted cats' antics. This is a delightful trope and, looking back over my own heart-on-my-sleeve journalling, it's the sort of thing that I should have done years ago. Similarly, for a short time, the Emi of the strip has a secret superhero identity and a male sidekick, but they fade away after he makes it known that he's a sidekick to other heroes. That was actually pretty sad.

Overall, it's good fun and once you get into it, sometimes engaging, but I do think that readers are going to get more out of it if they're under thirty or otherwise actively document their own life. The occasional intrusion of portraiture or action-adventure figures drawn in a somewhat different style into her diary - it reminds me of Matt Kindt - suggests that Lenox has even more appealing work ahead of her and need not get complacent with her diary work. Recommended.

(A PDF of this book was provided by the author for the purpose of review.)

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