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Off Season h/c

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Off Season h/c back

James Sturm


Page 45 Review by Publisher Blurb

"Mom asks again if I can't stay another night.
"Part of me feels guilty about taking off but once I'm on the road I know I made the right decision.
"Always better to leave too soon than stay too long."

I thought James Sturm's MARKET DAY back in 2010, the first time I became aware of him, was a truly moving work. A timeless piece about an artisan rug maker set in the early 1900s in Eastern Europe who finds himself unable to support his family as the shop that once took his wares now prefers to buy in cheaply manufactured tat. Slowly but surely, this proud creator of exquisite floor coverings begins to unravel faster than the competition's products as he loses the thread of his hitherto certain life.

As a warning of the seemingly all-powerful forces of 'the market', of how people chose to spend their cash and with whom, it obviously holds true today, with seemingly yet another grim year for the high street in prospect. Don't buy from Amazon et al folks; do frequent your high street instead. Or if you need to shop online, at least support an independent retailer. It may take a few clicks more but often they are just as cheap, trust me. I think we sold one copy of MARKET DAY by the way, which is a real shame, as it was a true high quality labour of love that frankly deserved a rather wider degree of appreciation.

Anyway, I digress... this time around James's opted for a more contemporary setting for his latest tale of the travails of 'real' life, set against the dispiriting backdrop of the last American Presidential election. I'll let the publisher give their stump speech before I cast my vote...

"James Sturm's riveting graphic novel charts one couple's divisive separation through the fall of 2016, during Bernie's loss to Hillary, Hillary's loss to Trump, and the disorienting months that followed. We see a father navigating life as a single parent and coping with the disintegration of a life-defining relationship.

Amid the upheaval are tender moments with his kids - a sleeping child being carried in from the car, Christmas morning anticipation, a late-night cookie after a temper tantrum - and fallible humans drenched in palpable feelings of grief, rage, loss, and overwhelming love. Off Season is unaffected and raw, steeped in the specificity of its time while speaking to a larger cultural moment."

James can be my preferred comics candidate, that's for sure. This is indeed at times, an emotionally hollowing read. I gradually began to feel quite empty inside indeed as I continued to turn the pages, and not just because Trump won. I... errr... might even have had to wipe my eyes at one point...

I think the key word in the publisher blurb above is "disintegration". Seen from the position of Mark, struggling to deal with life, both emotionally and financially, as his separated wife Lisa distances herself from him more and more, it's becoming increasingly impossible for him to feel, and by extension us the readers, any positivity about his situation whatsoever.

He still loves Lisa, and he certainly loves Suzie and Jeremy, their young kids, but he seems utterly powerless to prevent the seemingly permanent divergence of their lives. Perhaps loving someone shouldn't be confused with understanding them...? At this point, Mark's bitterness at his apparent inability to repair his marital situation, plus his rapidly dwindling fiscal prospects, is starting to really drag him down.

All of which sounds terribly depressing. And yet it isn't, actually, which is a testament to James' writing. You can sense Mark still has some fight left in him, even if he seems to be picking the wrong battles, or at least fighting them in the wrong manner. Lisa, well, Lisa has arrived at the point she's at for reasons which eventually become clear, rather belatedly, both to Mark and to us. Whether that newfound clarity is going to help anyone is another matter entirely...

Fans of Adrian KILLING AND DYING Tomine's bleaker material may well find this appeals tonally and content-wise. James has that same ability for all too clearly for comfort illustrating the painful morass that human interactions can quickly descend into. You may find yourself almost wincing and subconsciously shuffling with discomfort as Mark flounders on.

Art-wise, the very washed out palette of pale blues is entirely in keeping with the material. James also decided to make his characters anthropomorphic, specifically dogs. I think Mark might be a beagle actually, almost as if Snoopy were a human-bodied, hunched-shouldered, smoking depressive. I'm not entirely sure why, though it also gave me a slight flavour of Jason (ALMOST SILENT / IF YOU STEAL / LOW MOON), which given he isn't actually Mr. Laugh-A-Minute himself, probably is also a good point of comparison.

I'm desperate to throw Mark a lifeline (I nearly said bone...) / give you a spoiler, but I won't. Suffice to say, sometimes turning points can appear unexpectedly even when the road ahead seems only to stretch into the distance. The ending left me pondering...