Sunday, October 14, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Skyscrapers of the Midwest

I'm not gonna string you along, or make you wait until the end of the review to tell you this: Skyscrapers of the Midwest is one brilliant-ass graphic novel.  It is one of the most interesting things I've ever had the pleasure to read.  The story follows a young anthropomorphic cat who is staring down adolescence, but is reluctant to leave his boyhood and his well-loved toys behind.

Yeah, that's pretty much it, but this is a tale that winds it's way around a bunch of other topics as it makes it's way to the finish.  In between you get a segmented story about a run-away robot, a vignette or two about what it is like to be in your twenties and already feel trapped in a life you can barely tolerate, as well as a cowboy advice column, cigarette ads, a recipe for cherry pie, and plenty more.

Just as this graphic novel covers a wide variey of topics and subject matter,  Skyscrapers of the Midwest is one of those graphic novels that runs the gamut of emotional highs and lows.  There were many times where this book had me laughing out loud.  Embarrassingly, my biggest laughter outburst happened on the bus...yes, it was a shit joke that caused me to nearly fall out of my seat. Why is that kind of stuff way funnier on the bus?

This graphic novel has some sad, melancholy moments as well.  As the main character goes about his life it is hard to not feel for the guy as he moves from one childhood trauma or disappointment to the next.

One moment that really stands out for me was when his mother gave him this awesome robot backpack for his birthday.  The kid loved the backpack, but knew that it would cause him to be the recipient of bullying and playground ridicule if he kept it.  So he did the only thing he could do in the situation; he told his mom he didn't want it, and asked her to return it.  The thing is the mom knows he likes it, knows he wants to keep it, but also understands why he can't keep it. That awkward moment of childhood disappointment was so incredibly poignant to me that I was nearly blown away.  I don't know how many times I lived that experience as a child, but I'd never been able to fully process what that all meant until I read this scene.  It's not often that I ever get to have a moment of spot-on, perfect shared experiences and shared emotion, but I got there here with a cartoon cat...fucking impressive.

As much as this graphic novel allows the reader to laugh at the hilariously tragic moments of childhood, and shed a tear or two at the truly sad parts, Skyscrapers of the Midwest is also an awesome, awesome ode to the wonders of childhood.  The artist/writer, Joshua W. Cotter achieves this by mixing in all these amazing flights of fantasy that are part of a child's brilliant imagination.  The very first scene of the graphic novel shows the main character envisioning the kids that just excluded him from a game of kickball getting squished and stomped by a rampaging giant robot.  Only after those kids are roadkill does he then imagine himself turning into a robot who not only saves the day, but gets the girls.

Later, when the unnamed protagonist is the unwitting recipient of a tongue-lashing from the girl that he likes, he works his way through the mental grief in a hilarious homemade comic starring his robot-hero/alter-ego Nova Stealth.

These moments were not only somewhat sad, somewhat funny, and fun to read, but they totally made me feel like Cotter had eerie insight into the inner workings of my childhood mind.  Cotter makes similar connections with the reader over and over throughout this graphic novel.  It's an incredible skill to be able to create something that can resonate so strongly.

Skyscrapers of the Midwest is a one of a kind comic that manages to dabble in a bunch of topics, delve deep into others, provide a few oddball moments, and even provide a hefty dose of laughs.  It's a graphic novel that is incredibly genuine, and has a heart.  It's also quite pretty to look at.

Cotter displays a number of styles here, but his primary style reminded me a bit of R. Crumb's scratchy, cross-hatched line work.  That might come off as sounding like a rough and scruffy style, but it actually looks quite good.  Things look like they have texture and depth and weight to them in Skyscrapers.  This style allowed Cotter's art to deliver a lot of the emotional impact required of the story.

The guy isn't a one trick pony either.  There was a section of the story where he does spoofs of many popular syndicated comic strips, mimicking not only the art style of the comic strip, but also the comic strip's style of humor.  In other sections of the book Cotter uses a clean ink-line style too.  In the end, Cotter proves to be just as nimble with his artistic style as he is with his story-telling skills.

As I said in the opening paragraph, this is fantastic graphic novel.  The only other thing I've read so far this year in the comics medium that rivals it is Underwater Welder and King City.  Both of those are brilliant comics, and Skyscrapers of the Midwest has the power to hang with them both.  This is one of those reads that has stuck with me ever since I read it.  Skyscrapers of the Midwest is a comic that should be read and enjoyed by many. This one comes to you Highly Recommended.  

Grade: A+

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