Tuesday, February 1, 2011


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 Roadstrips: A Graphic Journey Across America (Chronicle, 2005).

This was a curious book that purports to have a focus but it really takes a lot of hammering to get all of the stories within it to reveal that focus. I found a used copy for three bucks at McKay Books in Nashville and was very surprised to see the original retail price was an oddly high $23. For three bucks, I'll happily buy a book with original work from Gilbert Hernandez, Pete Bagge, Peter Kuper and Jessica Abel.

I usually have trouble figuring out a way to review anthology books and this is no exception. Like many similar projects, some work here is going to be more appealing than others, but what disappointed me about the whole project was that many of the contributors didn't really sell me on the ostensible thread that tied it all together. If you can bear this pompous product description from Amazon, the book sets out to explore "identity on both a micro and a macro level, [illustrating] today's post-modern patchwork with bilious narratives, thoughtful tales, and hilarious memoirs. Taken together, their powerful and thoughtful stories create a composite national portrait like few others." But I didn't get a sense of any regional identity or character from most of these stories. Megan Kelso's story about life in the time of the Green River Killer didn't really tell me anything about living in the Pacific Northwest, though it was very well drawn. Matt Kindt's entertaining contribution was a good story about family vacations, but didn't fit that description either.

Since my wife and I love road tripping, this seemed like it would be an exciting and fun read, but I was left feeling a little confused by the whole thing, and jarred by the massive differences in the contributions. I'm not talking just about different styles, but the feeling that each of the 22 artists was given a different set of instructions regarding what the editor was hoping from them. It also appears that the editor was either confused as to what constitutes "the south" (it ain't Arizona, friend) or he did not feel like contacting anybody from this region. True, the best stories in this book were worth reading, but they were not very long. Recommended if you like any of these artists, but for a lot less than the retail price.

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