By Joe Ollmann
Published by Drawn and Quarterly
Paperback, 6 x 9, black and white, 184 pages
No time left for pretense.
Joe Ollmann has been amusing us with sharp and cynical humour for a long time now. And I’ll freely admit to being a biased reviewer.
I was first introduced to his work in the 90s when my roommate presented me with one of his zines after a Toronto small press fair and told me it was the most brilliant thing he’d read.
He was often prone to overstatement, and I didn’t quite have my roommate’s unbinding appetite for biting gen-x humour. But Joe won me over. Over the years, his perspective has shifted and his work has matured. So it’s probably not surprising I can relate to another 40-year old today as well as I did when we were both 20-something.
In his latest, MID-LIFE Joe takes a strip out of his own hide again, depicting John–a fictional version of himself–as a overworked, under-slept, compulsive and beset father struggling to keep up with a second family while trying to maintain his relationship with the children of his first. Mostly successfully, but he’d never believe that if you told him.
In the midst of this he develops a crush on a punk pixie turned children’s performer and tries despite himself to set up a rendezvous with her via his job at a pop culture magazine. There is a fully realized secondary story flushing out the object of his obsession’s life, making the moment of their meeting all the more deliciously uncomfortable.
Joe’s fictional persona John reminded me of a mid life version of John Cusack’s protagonist in High Fidelity, Rob Gordon. I should say they really are not the same people. But that struggle against the demands and responsibilities of life, fought through a desire for casual sex is as strong a theme here. This and the running inner monologues, it kind of made me think of MID-LIFE as a “what if we returned to Gordon’s story 15 years later?”. Only, Gordon is surrounded by cat shit, and no longer sees himself as a desirable guy. Indeed he thinks he’s a creep. And he’s too damn tired to make lists.
Check it, Joe gave a reading and reveals the identity of the real children’s performer
who inspired Sherry Smalls on Cinq a six on CBC ici.
Joe’s strength has always been I thought in his dialogue and characters. Despite using a lot of short hand and satire, he seldom gives us two-dimensional subjects. Even his least attractive bit player is often human if not likable. A big part of this is his art. It’s raw and rough, but I’ve always found it really effective within his stories. It embodies the anxieties, self-loathing and frustrations his characters are often dealing with well. Joe always does shambling wrecks like John well. But Sherry Smalls–the children’s performer–manages to be perfectly cute, and then effectively angry punk pixie when called for. I know Joe doubts his ability to depict things like that–pretty girls namely–but he pulls it off. And far from some kind of foil, she has as much depth and credibility–not to mention as many issues and anxieties–as John does.
This is the longest story Joe’s undertaken so far. Past books have been collections of short stories, or “really long short stories”. Now that his son is getting older I hope he’ll find the time, and the sleep, to do more like it. I’ll be looking forward to them. If I had a complaint it was that I missed the novelty I felt when I first read Joe’s comics nearly 20 years ago. Having read them for as long as I have there was much of this that was a familiar and a logical evolution. But really that was all the more fitting.
A worthy read. And hey, just noticed it’s on sale at the D+Q site now too!