November 16, 2008

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American Elf Book One

Written by James Kochalka
Illustrated by James Kochalka
Top Shelf

This is the larger, five-year (October 26, 1998 to December 31, 2003) version of a book I'd read earlier in the year, which only featured the first year's diary. Much of what I had to say then applies to this one, so I'll be duplicating myself just a bit.

Kochalka dutifully draws a square box each day describing something from the events of his life for almost five solid years--he is still doing it to this day, at ten years and counting--in this book, pausing only in a nadir of self-doubt. Ranging from the silly to the scatological to the serious, Kochalka manages to sum up his life very well in just a few frames a day, sized like the Far Side used to be. He even mentions once how hard it is picking out one thing to highlight, how hard it was to keep up daily, and even some tough spots in his life--fighting with his wife, falling out with friends, doubts about his career, to name just a few.

The daily diaries here cover some of his lower points, along with the trials of being a pending (and then new) father, as well as trying to buy a house, keep his career going, and deal with the frequent separations that his line of work require (comic cons and gigging). He opens up so much here to the reader, it's really quite touching. A lot of the comics feature their cat, too, which of course an added bonus. There are also a lot of silly comments, as those often make the best thing to use for the day. Perhaps my favorite is in reference for winning an Ignantz and having to explain to the airport why he's carrying a gold brick.

Those with sensitive taste should be aware of the occasional nudity and frequent references to bodily functions, but everyone else will like this a lot. As Kochalka himself says, "My sketchbook diaries are my only hope for making sense of everything. They define who I am and my place in this world. I am lost without them." We are better off for his sharing of these sometimes very personal thoughts.