November 16, 2008

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American Elf Book Two

Written by James Kochalka
Illustrated by James Kochalka
Top Shelf

This is the follow up to the larger collection, containing Kochalka's diary strips from January 1, 2004 to December 31, 2005. This time around, we are well into Father Kochalka, and his feelings towards his child Eli are front and center in his mind, taking up well over half of the entries. He even comments at one point that almost everything he draws now is about his son.

The focus on the life of a parent, I admit, was a bit of a problem for me at some points. I don't have a child and don't have any plans to have a child, so for me, all the cute things that a baby does aren't all that interesting to me personally. There's only so many "I think the baby pooped" moments that endearing to one who has plans to stay childless. However, having said that, the honesty that comes through is pure Kochalka and well worth reading.

He admits to failures at times (a particularly scary one in one entry), just as he continues to admit to having problems with anger misdirected. It's the openness with which Kochalka presents to us the reader that makes following Kochalka's life day by day worthwhile. If he were more reluctant to give us the good and the bad, this series would only be interesting for the daily upkeep and not for the content therein.

In this volume, we see James getting older--he's worried more about the baby, more people are getting married or moving away, and he feels pains he didn't have before--which certainly is something I can relate to. Those are the strips that resonated the most with me.

It's not all seriousness, of course. There's the "Will the border guards hate us because we're going to Canada on the 4th of July?" type of zaniness that always brings a smile to my face. Kochalka finds a way to remind us of a need to appreciate the small things in life and see them as part of a whole that's greater than we tend to give it credit for most of the time.

A change that I'm not sure was needed is that the strips are in color this time. I find I'm rather fond of black and white art lately and the change to color didn't really bring enough to the table to make me think it was worth the change. I think it's because I think of this as like a daily comic strip, and the colorized versions of those are not as good, either.

Still, it's a minor point. I really enjoy these diaries, I hope there's a print volume 3 soon.
[There is of course a volume three now, review as soon as I complete it.]