Overview

American Elf Book 4

Review

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American Elf Book 4

Credits

  • Words: James Kochalka
  • Art: James Kochalka
  • Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
  • Price: $24.95
  • Release Date: Jul 31, 2012

Drawn with an accessibly clear and simple linework, American Elf is a uniquely engaging take on autobiographical comics.

For the uninitiated – should such a thing exist – American Elf is writer/artist’s James Kochalka’s critically lauded diary comic. Since the late ‘90s, Vermont’s resident cartoonist laureate has been producing short daily strips, comprising between one and four panels at a pop, that depict his everyday routine in his roles as family man, comics creator and musician (among others!).

For the last few years the strip has been updated at the American Elf website, providing not only regular insights to current events in the Kochalka household but also a full archive going back to 2008. Top Shelf Productions have also been publishing the series in trade paperbacks, with the latest volume compiling strips from January 2008 to December 2011 in a bumper black and white collection.

The tone of diary entries ranges from the frivolously humorous to the profoundly sentimental, through to observational, surreal silliness and occasional moments of bitingly self-deprecating personal analysis. In this fourth volume, for example, the domestic and professional existence of our hero continues apace: we witness the Kochalka boys Eli and Oliver age four years in the space of just under 400 pages, meet a new arrival to the family in the form of kitten Nooko, go gigging with James’s band, attend comic-cons to promote American Elf and play every major video game released in that timeframe. On a more absurdist level we also get to ruminate on how raspberries taste like lobster, discover that cats don’t like to be played like harmonicas, find out which member of the Kochalka clan considers “an electric marble that lives in my ear” to be his best friend, and attend a drunken American Elf book signing.

While the sometimes incongruous, sometimes farcical humour is as splendid as ever, it’s the fact that it’s juxtaposed with the raw and brutal honesty of Kochalka’s often harsh and self-critical depiction of himself that elevates American Elf to the upper tiers of the diary comic genre. There’s something almost unbearably resonant about the manner in which he is unafraid to paint a picture of life with all his self-perceived failings, foibles and slightly paranoid struggles with the world on show. But it’s through that same baring of the psyche that the author’s most likeable qualities as family man and father also shine through.

Drawn with an accessibly clear and simple linework, American Elf is a uniquely engaging take on autobiographical comics. If you have yet to sample the wonder of James Kochalka’s world then pick up this latest collection of his diary work and discover how, once opened, a volume of American Elf becomes almost impossible to put down.

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