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CultMTL calls You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack "smart, silly, and hilarious"

Updated September 10, 2013


"Three Hot New Cartoon Books"

by Jeff Miller
Cult Montreal, July 4, 2013

Berlin-based cartoonist Ulli Lust’s Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life is a harrowing account of her adventures as a young teenage punk on the road. Set in 1984, this autobiographical tale begins with the restless 17-year-old Ulli spending her days wandering the streets of Vienna meeting interesting people and doing her best to avoid Nazi skinheads. She makes out with her boyfriend, learns how to give stick-and-poke tattoos and is constantly insulted on the street for her punk style.

Ulli meets Edi, who suggests that they hitchhike to Italy and sneak over the border. What follows is an epic road trip. The book weighs in at nearly 500 pages and Lust pays close attention to the trials and triumphs of the no-budget travel of her teenage protagonists. In addition to hitchhiking, Ulli and Edi also hike treacherous mountain paths populated by wild boars, and later they reluctantly attend the opera in Verona and even visit St. Peter’s Basilica.

In Rome, the wandering pair find a tribe of street kids to call their own. On their first night with their new crew they sneak into a Clash concert and Ulli remarks “we had arrived in paradise.” But following a summer living on the streets of Rome, Ulli migrates further south, finding herself alone in Palermo. Lust sensitively depicts the predicament faced by her younger self; without money she is vulnerable to the men who offer her food or a place to stay, and when she refuses the inevitable propositions she is either insulted or attacked.

Eventually Ulli gives up on Italy, returning home to her parents’ house, leaving a black ring of dirt around the tub after bathing for the first time in months. Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life is a gripping read that feels like a story a close friend might tell you after returning from a long voyage. Lust’s lively illustration style and enthralling narrative voice make this graphic novel a feminist On the Road for the twenty-first century.

Montreal cartoonist Joe Ollmann’s new book is about the dissolution of a relationship, but the circumstances which bring about this domestic unravelling are deeply weird. Together for six years, Mark and Sue are lower-middle class, slightly depressed and totally in love. One night while watching an alien abduction scene in a rented movie, Mark suddenly recalls his own abduction by aliens years before, breaking down in tears and shaking in fear. Sue is initially sympathetic but refuses to believe Mark’s recovered memories.

The couple remain locked in this stand-off for weeks, growing increasingly distant and unable to communicate. Mark begins to unravel, staying home from work, refusing to wash, and spending countless hours on alien abduction message boards. Meanwhile, a distraught Sue seeks emotional support (and eventually more) from her boss.

Ollmann’s story is entertaining throughout and often quite funny, using these unconventional circumstances as a vehicle to lampoon the boredom and comfort of domestic life. Ollmann’s illustration style is rough and cartoony, and conveys the high emotional charge of the story, slyly drawing the reader into Mark and Sue’s strange conflict, one which has no clear resolution by the end of the book.

Scottish cartoonist Tom Gauld’s second book from Drawn & Quarterly, You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, collects his comic strips originally published in the Guardian’s review section. These strips mix high culture with low, creating a rare alchemy that is pitch-perfect and full of fun.

Gauld is a master of hilarious combinations. In one strip, a semi-nude Allen Ginsberg is Spiderman’s new crime-fighting sidekick. The webbed wonder advises Ginsberg “I’ll catch the crooks in my web, then you blow their minds with a poem.” Elsewhere the novels of the Bronte sisters are adapted into a videogame. And in one of the most mordant strips in the collection Samuel Beckett’s version of Tintin wanders a bleak landscape and mutters “Life might be slightly less horrible further on.”

All the strips offer a humorous engagement with the tropes of fiction and the banalities of literary creation, including self-aware literary characters who complain that their indecisive writer keeps changing their names, and Barbara, “a complex literary creation,” who is forced to break up with Michael, a mere sci-fi character. Many of the funniest strips involve absurd and erudite conceits such as “The Mouse, The Bird, and the Difficult Novel,” or “Feminist James Bond.” Throughout the collection, Gauld’s comic strips are smart, silly and hilarious. ■

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust, Trans. by Kim Thompson, 460 pp. $37 (Fantagraphics)

Science Fiction by Joe Ollmann, 2013, 128 pp. $18 softcover (Conundrum)

You’re All Just Jealous of my Jetpack by Tom Gauld, 2013, 160 pp. $19.95 hardcover (Drawn & Quarterly)

Jeff Miller is the author of the award-winning short story collection Ghost Pine: All Stories True. He lives and drinks coffee in Little Italy.
 
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Joe Ollmann
Tom Gauld

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You're All Just Jealous Of My Jetpack




  HARK! A VAGRANT tops PW Comics World Critic's Poll 2011! W/ BIG QUESTIONS, MID LIFE

Updated January 11, 2012


January 10, 2012

Although it’s often said that comedy has a disadvantage when it comes to winning recognition, that was not the case with this year’s PW Comics World Critic’s Poll: the book with the most votes was Kate Beaton’s webcomic compilation Hark! A Vagrant, a laff riot of frustrated admirals, over-zealous girl detectives and baby-dropping F. Scott Fitzgerald characters that cemented Beaton's ascent of one of North America's top cartoonists. Begun as a webcomic running on Live Journal, Beaton’s witty, learned strips skewering literature and obscure facets of Canadian history soon gained an eager following. This year’s collection, published by Drawn & Quarterly has been a consistent best-seller since it arrived in September, and it gained a spot on Time magazine’s list of the top ten fiction books of the year. Beaton has become an all-media star with cartoons in the New Yorker and an Adventure Time cartoon adapted from one of her characters.

Publishers Weeklys’ own critic’s were equally charmed by Beaton’s book—equally informed by classic New Yorker cartooning and modern superheroes—as Johanna Draper Carlson wrote “Beaton's unique work is one of the best examples of good humor being universal.”

Beyond Beaton’s win—with five votes from the critics panel—the selections showed the usual exhilarating range of styles and topics, from Carla Speed McNeil’s deep-rooted fantasy Finder: Voice to Joe Ollmann’s novel of 40-something crisis, Mid Life, with stops for almost abstract meditations on life from Olivier Schrauwen and Yuichi Yokahama. And everything in-between. With more than 50 picks from our critics, there’s something to explore for everyone who likes comics on the below list.

This year’s voters consisted of Chris Barsanti, Steve Bunche, Johanna Draper Carlson, Danica Davidson, Glen Downey, Bill Kartalopoulos, Dan Kois, Heidi MacDonald, Calvin Reid and Janet Weber.

THREE VOTES
Big Questions, Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly)
Lytical, ephemeral and riveting—Nilsen turns the “funny animal” trope of comics into a 600-page exploration of the meaning of life, with stops along the way for dread, horror and laughter.—HM

TWO VOTES
Mid Life, Joe Ollmann (Drawn & Quarterly)
What makes this graphic novel so exemplary is that everything it says is completely and utterly true. This should be required reading for every dude turning 40.—GD

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Anders Nilsen
Joe Ollmann
Kate Beaton

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Mid-Life
Big Questions (paperback)
Hark! A Vagrant




GNBCC leads AV Club's Best Comics of 2011 along side PAYING FOR IT and MID-LIFE!

Updated December 29, 2011


December 29, 2011
Noel Murray

Top 10 Original Graphic Novels

1. Seth, The Great Northern Brotherhood Of Canadian Cartoonists (D&Q)
Seth’s latest “sketchbook novella” explores the 75-year history of a prestigious (fictional) professional cartoonists club by way of a tour through its headquarters, with Seth himself as the guide. Some of the work Seth describes is real, but most of it comes straight from his own head, and it reads like a wish list of comics he wishes he could read—or that he wishes he had time to draw. Where is that long-running series about the Eskimo astronaut? Or that impressionistic proto-graphic-novel about a building full of mysterious machines? In The G.N.B. Double C., Seth pays homage to the nostalgic appeal and seemingly limitless potential of old comics, while trying to create his own testament to how much wonder can be contained within a nine-panel grid.

3. Chester Brown, Paying For It (D&Q)
Chester Brown takes a detached approach to his recent history as a patron of prostitutes, telling his story in tiny panels populated by even tinier characters, positioned like figurines in a museum case. Brown attempts to argue that “possessive monogamy” is socially regressive, and that it makes more sense to separate companionship and sex, and whenever he crosses over from “this is an arrangement that works for me” to “this is the way everyone should live,” Paying For It becomes a little strange. But Brown finds the humor and the drama in his “dates,” and a late twist in the book calls into question a lot of what Brown’s trying to say about whether the traditional romantic order is corrupt. The advantage of Brown’s “watching from a distance” style is that it’s open to interpretation, allowing readers to re-raise the questions that Brown may think he’s answered.

7. Joe Ollmann, Mid-Life (D&Q)
John, the hero of Joe Ollmann’s Mid-Life, is a 40-year-old art director with two snippy grown daughters from his failed first marriage, plus an exhausted new wife and a toddler. When John becomes obsessed with a Laurie Berkner-like kiddie-music star named Sherry Smalls, he risks his family, his career, and his self-image to meet with her while on a business trip to New York. Ollmann works here with cramped nine-panel pages, conveying both the drudgery and the clutter of John’s life. But Mid-Life is remarkably nuanced within its own rigid parameters. The book approximates what it’s like to be at the halfway point of life, with memories and past regrets bleeding into daily interactions, even as middle-aged folks retain enough optimism about the future to keep pushing ahead.
 
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Chester Brown
Seth
Joe Ollmann

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Mid-Life
Paying For It
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




  MTV Geek! interviews JOE OLLMANN at MOCCA

Updated May 26, 2011


Check out the link below to watch MTV's interview of Joe!
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Featured artist

Joe Ollmann

          



The Library Journal suggest JOE OLLMANN's MID-LIFE for libraries

Updated May 26, 2011


"This is largely a work of fiction except where it isn't," warns Ollmann. It just so happens that alter ego John also has a young second wife, two grown daughters from marriage number one, a toddler son, and a massive midlife crisis. Spilling all via voice-over, John starts with sh*t: three cats and a baby make lots of it. And he has to watch that &**%!! because of little Sam within hearing. Further, as a seemingly certified Adult older than his family and most coworkers, John's stuck with handling complications poured on by his job and his two daughters. What's the harm in emailing that pretty children's performer, Sherri Smalls, as a stress-buster? As for Sherri, she's confronting her own crapola, including an unstable partner and parched love life, so a mature man looks really inviting.

VERDICT This could go tragic or funny, but Ollmann--having gone angsty for his award-winning This Will All End in Tears--opts for the comic. Quite funny indeed for most of us over 40, Mid-Life makes a good pick for adults new to graphic novels. With angular black-and-white drawings; recommended for public libraries.
 
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Joe Ollmann

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Mid-Life




MTV Geek! snags a photo of JOE OLLMANN at MoCCA 2011

Updated May 16, 2011



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Joe Ollmann

          



Montreal Gazette reviews the pain and poignancy of JOE OLLMANN's MID-LIFE

Updated May 12, 2011


Mid-life. In the critical lexicon the mere use of the term, especially when followed as it so often is by the word "crisis", has become a guaranteed knee-jerker, a cudgel with which to beat any novel or film or album dealing in any way with...well, with the onset of the middle of someone's life.* It's a red rag, a provocation unto itself, shorthand for self-pity and self-indulgence and embarrassing attempts to shore up a vitality that's clearly fading. Never mind that writers like John Cheever and John Updike, filmmakers like Woody Allen and John Cassavetes (and probably a whole lot of Europeans, and the makers of Sideways) and songwriters like Bob Dylan and Neil Young have done some of their very best work in mid-life's thematic domain.** (In Updike's case, the mid-life seemed to last longer than most entire lives.) Mid-life in our culture is bad news, not sexy, the very antithesis of hip.

Joe Ollmann surely knows all this. When he chose to title his new graphic novel Mid-Life, on at least one level he must have been seeking to deflect the inevitable hostility by wielding the cudgel on himself before anybody else could do the job for him. In any event, he needn't have worried where I'm concerned. I'd much rather buy him a beer.

The basic premise of Mid-Life is one we've seen before: man approaching forty feels life's responsibilities (and the notion of mortality) closing in on him, sees the hope of escape in a younger woman, and chaos and heartbreak ensue. That classic structure supports a whole world of detail and emotional nuance. The very first panel, in which our hero John deals with the fallout from a split plastic bag full of cat doo-doo, can stand as an encapsulation of almost all that follows: life is full of little messes that only get worse-that in fact tend to turn into one big mess-when you try to clean them up.

Technically, Ollmann gets maximum effect within a fairly simple framework. With few exceptions, each page comprises a nine-panel grid; many of the panels are crammed with words. This combination gives the book a density and a narrative richness that belies its small cast of characters. (The single variation in frame size is used for a hysterical full-page itemization of mid-life's physical indignities, e.g. "Take away daily exercise and substitute a bag of chips. Result: gut.") As for Olliman's drawing style, Dave Howard, writing in Quill & Quire, said it better than I could have, so I hope he won't mind my quoting from his back cover-quoted review: "(Ollmann's) scratchy, nervous lines, couple with a deceptive cartoony sense of perspective, lend an eerie and ironic self-conscious tension to the stories' often painful subject matter."

A key word there, I feel, is painful. You'll notice Howard didn't say painfully funny, though he could have, as Ollmann is often exactly that. No, what he says, and presumably means, is painful, period. Painful in the way that direct reflections of our own least noble aspects can be, and probably should be. In this sense, Ollmann makes the best subversive use of his medium. No matter how many times we're presented with evidence to the contrary, we're just not conditioned to expect comics to be anything but funny. When they're more-and Mid-Life is much more-the pleasure and the pain are all the greater.

*The life in question almost always being a man's. Which may well be part of the problem.

**And, yes, sure, some of their worst, too.


 
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Joe Ollmann

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Mid-Life




  JOE OLLMAN's MIDLIFE defies expectations in review by The Comics Journal

Updated May 12, 2011


For those of us who got fed up a long time ago with misanthropic, self-pitying comics about unappreciated cartoonists, the first few pages of Joe Ollmann's Mid-Life don't seem promising. Here's liver-spotted, pot-bellied, deeply scowling John Olsen—Ollmann's "semi-fictitious" surrogate and protagonist, a just-turned-40 magazine art director with a much younger second wife and an infant son, as well as two grown daughters from his disastrous first (and teenaged) marriage - whining to the reader in a running narrative as he grudgingly cleans out the cat box, steps on a loaded diaper, then a baby toy, then flees to his studio, where, poor bastard, he discovers dust, "actual dust," on his drawing board, a ruled-out but empty-paneled sheet of Strathmore taped there like a stinging rebuke. How, he wonders, did his "hipster life get so very boring and domestic?"

Barely half-way through chapter one I was already thinking, Oh no, please, not again. Not another one of those. And, in fact, no, not: because quickly, very, Mid-Life turns into a deftly structured novel full of shrewd characterizations, nuanced scenes and memorably quirky bits of business, everything as harrowing as it is compassionate and very funny - a genuine accomplishment. (Although Olsen shares an almost identical vita and biography with Ollmann, or vice versa, personally I couldn't care less which episodes and events "actually happened" and which have been invented for the book. It's none of my business. And besides, I'm reminded of an old-school magazine editor I once worked for named Everett Meyers who insisted that if a memoir has dialog in it, it's fiction and ought to be read as such. What matters is the story between the covers, does it work, and by any standard, this does.)

While trying to settle down the baby one evening, Olsen plays a new DVD of children's songs about monkeys and marshmallows performed by a curly-haired thirty-something singer-songwriter named Sherri Smalls. He's replaying it for the third time when his 19-year-old daughter drops by the apartment for a visit and a meal and teasingly accuses him of having the hots for a children's performer. Instantly, irritably he denies it. Naturally, pathetically it's the truth. The man is smitten.

From that point on, chapters alternate between Olsen's domestic and professional life in Canada (marriage and job are both on the rocks) and Sherri Smalls' emerging show business life in New York City, sequences written and blocked with the confidence and verisimilitude (if not the creamy photo-realism) of Leonard Starr's classic newspaper strip On Stage. Once a waif-like street singer who wrote and recorded music for grown-ups during the early 1990's, she is currently being courted by a children's cable network to star in a Saturday morning TV show. Although seven years younger than John Olsen, Sherry Smalls is experiencing an early-onset mid-life crisis of her own. Is she really and truly a children's performer; is that the best she can do? Is she a sell-out, as a former lover and band mate (now a monkey-suited dancer in her stage show) keeps calling her? Maybe, yeah. But it would be nice to have some money for a change, a nice place to live, a healthier diet than "chips and a beer glass full of wine," possibly even some romance.

When Olsen flies into New York for a couple of days to supervise a photo shoot, yes, of course he contacts Sherri under the creepy ruse of interviewing her for his magazine; and sure, absolutely, we've all seen this sort of middle-age-crazy-white-guy behavior before in half a million novels and movies, but, trust me, what transpires once the two of them hook up for drinks is not only unexpected but inspired. And painful. And hilarious.

What's particularly impressive and rewarding throughout is how Joe Ollmann insists upon taking his time telling his story (action, reaction; action, pause, reaction; action, reaction, pause, further pause, action, and so on). A scene takes as long as it takes, but not one beat longer. Employing a strict-9-panel grid (violated just once and to devastating effect with a near-full-page portrait of schlubby, flabby John Olsen in his underpants), the book's twenty-five episodes are paced out to permit characters both major and minor to emerge and develop as distinct, messy, knowable personalities. Even familiar "types" (a coked-up rock musician, an office nerd, a corporate sharpie) confound presumptions. Ollmann's unlovely drawing is angular, brushy and in-your-face, evincing a boatload of influences (Art Brut and Max Beckmann, Peter Bagge, Jeffrey Brown, Ben Katchor and even, maybe, Ted McKeever) but never seeming borrowed or amalgamated. In the past, Ollmann's characters could look infinitesimally or, sometimes, drastically different from panel to panel; not here. Here, Ollmann has made a huge leap forward as a stylist and as a storyteller. Mid-Life is a major and wonderful piece of work and attention ought now to be paid.
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Joe Ollmann

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Mid-Life




The Comics Journal gives MID-LIFE a glowing review!

Updated May 4, 2011


For those of us who got fed up a long time ago with misanthropic, self-pitying comics about unappreciated cartoonists, the first few pages of Joe Ollman’s Mid-Life don’t seem promising. Here’s liver-spotted, pot-bellied, deeply scowling John Olsen—Ollmann’s “semi-fictitious” surrogate and protagonist, a just-turned-40 magazine art director with a much-younger second wife and an infant son as well as two grown daughters from his disastrous first (and teenaged) marriage—whining to the reader in a running narrative as he grudgingly cleans out the cat box, steps on a loaded diaper, then a baby toy, then flees to his studio, where, poor bastard, he discovers dust, “actual dust,” on his drawing board, a ruled-out but empty-paneled sheet of Strathmore taped there like a stinging rebuke. How, he wonders, did his “hipster life get so very boring and domestic?”

Barely half-way through chapter one I was already thinking, Oh no, please, not again. Not another one of those. And, in fact, no, not: because quickly, very, Mid-Life turns into a deftly structured novel full of shrewd characterizations, nuanced scenes and memorably quirky bits of business, everything as harrowing as it is compassionate and very funny—a genuine accomplishment. (Although Olsen shares an almost identical vita and biography with Ollmann, or vice versa, personally I couldn’t care less which episodes and events “actually happened” and which have been invented for the book. It’s none of my business. And besides, I’m reminded of an old-school magazine editor I once worked for named Everett Meyers who insisted that if a memoir has dialog in it, it’s fiction and ought to be read as such. What matters is the story between the covers, does it work, and by any standard, this does.)

While trying to settle down the baby one evening, Olsen plays a new DVD of children’s songs about monkeys and marshmallows performed by a curly-haired thirtysomething singer-songwriter named Sherri Smalls. He’s replaying it for the third time when his 19-year-old daughter drops by the apartment for a visit and a meal and teasingly accuses him of having the hots for a children’s performer. Instantly, irritably he denies it. Naturally, pathetically it’s the truth. The man is smitten.

From that point on, chapters alternate between Olsen’s domestic and professional life in Canada (marriage and job are both on the rocks) and Sherri Smalls’ emerging show business life in New York City, sequences written and blocked with the confidence and verisimilitude (if not the creamy photo-realism) of Leonard Starr’s classic newspaper strip “On Stage.” Once a waif-like street singer who wrote and recorded music for grown-ups during the early 1990’s, she is currently being courted by a children’s cable network to star in a Saturday morning TV show. Although seven years younger than John Olsen, Sherry Smalls is experiencing an early-onset mid-life crisis of her own. Is she really and truly a children’s performer; is that the best she can do? Is she a sell-out, as a former lover and band mate (now a monkey-suited dancer in her stage show) keeps calling her? Maybe, yeah. But it would be nice to have some money for a change, a nice place to live, a healthier diet than “chips and a beer glass full of wine,” possibly even some romance.

When Olsen flies into New York for a couple of days to supervise a photo shoot, yes, of course he contacts Sherri under the creepy ruse of interviewing her for his magazine; and sure, absolutely, we’ve all seen this sort of middle-age-crazy-white-guy behavior before in half a million novels and movies, but, trust me, what transpires once the two of them hook up for drinks is not only unexpected but inspired. And painful. And hilarious.

What’s particularly impressive and rewarding throughout is how Joe Ollmann insists upon taking his time telling his story (action, reaction; action, pause, reaction; action, reaction, pause, further pause, action, and so on). A scene takes as long as it takes, but not one beat longer. Employing a strict-9-panel grid (violated just once and to devastating effect with a near-full-page portrait of schlubby, flabby John Olsen in his underpants), the book’s twenty-five episodes are paced out to permit characters both major and minor to emerge and develop as distinct, messy, knowable personalities. Even familiar “types” (a coked-up rock musician, an office nerd, a corporate sharpie) confound presumptions. Ollmann’s unlovely drawing is angular, brushy and in-your-face, evincing a boatload of influences (Art Brut and Max Beckmann, Peter Bagge, Jeffrey Brown, Ben Katchor and even, maybe, Ted McKeever) but never seeming borrowed or amalgamated. In the past, Ollmann’s characters could look infinitesimally or, sometimes, drastically different from panel to panel; not here. Here, Ollmann has made a huge leap forward as a stylist and as a storyteller. Mid-Life is a major and wonderful piece of work and attention ought now to be paid.
 
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Joe Ollmann

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Mid-Life




  MID-LIFE in the Austin Chronicle

Updated April 5, 2011


Joe Ollmann's Marvelous Mid-Life Muckup!
BY WAYNE ALAN BRENNER,
WED. MAR. 30

Oh, go ahead and judge him.
You'd think middle-aged John's got enough trouble in his life ~ trying to save his graphic-design job, dealing with his new wife and infant son and two grown daughters, battling a vindictive housecat, facing down a stalkoholic co-worker ~ without falling madly in crush with Sherri Smalls, former indie rocker and current children's-music sensation.

But of course, yeah, that's exactly what he does in Mid-Life, the dense, hilarious, relentlessly nine-panels-to-a-page book by Joe Ollmann, now out from Canadian comics powerhouse Drawn & Quarterly.

Ollmann could've stuck exclusively with John's POV and given us farce from a single, skewed and extremely-quasi-autobiographical perspective; but he deepens the story and the characters (not to mention the inside look at industrial creativity) by including the milieu of Sherri's life, too, providing scenes of the singer's drunk and raging ex-boyfriend in a (literal) monkeysuit, of her struggles with art and bidness, of the potential differences between selling out and buying in.

When these two characters finally get together in the Big Apple … well, that's for you to find out, o lucky reader, in this marvelously drawn tale of a cynical everyman's last hurrah before geezerdom settles in like a terminal case of colic.
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Joe Ollmann

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Mid-Life




Booklist praises JOE OLLMANN'S work in MID-LIFE

Updated March 30, 2011


Mid-Life.
Ollmann, Joe (Author) , Ollman, Joe (Illustrator)
Mar 2011. Drawn & Quarterly, paperback, $19.95. (9781770460287).
Keir Graff
April 15, 2011
Booklist


You don’t have to be a twice-married 40-year-old man with a baby son, two grown daughters, and three
old cats to enjoy this, but if you are, Ollmann’s no-holds-barred grapple with man’s propensity for self-aggrandizement,
self-deception, and self-loathing may have uncanny resonance. In this fictionalized
memoir, Canadian art director John Olsen is suffering from “middle-age parent syndrome” and screwing
up at work and at home. He develops a crush on a children’s performer and takes a business trip to New
York, where he may or may not cheat on his wife. This modest arc comprises an utterly compelling drama.
The push and pull between John’s internal narrative and outward actions is exquisitely painful, especially
for those of us—and that would be all of us—who think one thing and do another. John wants to be a
better person, but he’s in danger of being defeated by his own gift for rationalization. The black-and-white,
nine-panel-grid artwork shows influences from R. Crumb to Daniel Clowes (think sweat) but is definitely
Ollmann’s own, and his warts-and-all character renderings are a perfect complement to this warts-and-all
tale. Blemishes included, this is memoir at its best because the specifics are universal, not mere
oversharing.
 

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Joe Ollmann

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Mid-Life




  Publishers Weekly: A Starred Review for Mid-Life

Updated March 30, 2011


Mid-Life
Joe Ollmann.
Drawn and Quarterly,
$19.95 paper (192p) ISBN
978-1-77046-028-7
Publishers Weekly, March 2011

If you've never heard of Ollmann (This Will All End in Tears, Chewing on Tinfoil), you certainly will as a result of this book, a midlife odyssey of nine-panel graphic storytelling that is part autobiography, part fiction, but above all, a work of uncompromising honesty. Ollmann's 40-year-old protagonist, Joe, must deal with all of the difficulties and domestic responsibilities of middle-age, including his second wife, Chan, and infant son, Sam, as well as grown-up daughters from his first marriage. However, Joe's mundane world of diaper changes and interrupted sleep is threatened when a rock singer–turned–children's performer, Sherry Smalls, turns up on one of his son's DVDs. He senses a connection with Smalls and can't seem to get her out of his head. When circumstances lead to an opportunity to meet her, Joe is forced to confront his midlife crisis head on. The story is brilliantly conceived and executed, moving back and forth between Joe's and Sherry's stories. The story uncannily captures the way men think, not only about their jobs or domestic partnerships but about themselves--and not only about what "midlife" takes from them but what it gives back to them as well. Readers of any age who pick up this gem will find it impossible to put down. (Mar.)

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Joe Ollmann

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Mid-Life




Jeet Heer talks MID-LIFE for Comics Comics Magazine

Updated March 11, 2011


The Mid-Life Theme. As can be guessed from the title, Ollmann’s book is about a mid-life crisis. Has anyone noticed how pervasive that theme has been in recent graphic novels? I’m thinking here of Clowes’ Wilson, Collier’s Chimo, Jaime Hernandez’s The Education of Hopey Glass (and the triptych of stories in Love and Rockets 3), Ware’s Acme 19 (and arguably “Jason Lint” or Acme 20, which covers the characters whole life year by year but where the central life-defining actions take place in mid-life). Perhaps related is Brown’s Paying For It, which I haven’t read yet, also hinges I’m told on a pivotal life-decision the cartoonist made in mid-life. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the mid-life theme is so pervasive. The generation of alternative cartoonists that now dominate comics were all born in the late 1950s or 1960s and are now facing mid-life themselves. Seth’s an interesting anomaly since it could be said that he cartooned like a middle-age man even when he was young. But Seth is relevant here because he once said that he hoped his audience would grow old with him. That’s what seems to be happening with alternative comics and their audience.



The tradition of low mimetic comedy. Ollmann’s book quite properly carries a blurb from Peter Bagge. This got me thinking about the tradition that Ollmann belongs to, which might be defined as the low mimetic comedy. In comics, it’s a tradition that (as I tried to indicate in my review) goes back to Hogarth. This type of cartooning really flourished in the 1920s with lowlife scoundrels and picaros like Barney Google and Moon Mullins. The tradition was revived in the underground days in Crumb’s Fritz the Cat stories and Gilbert Shelton’s Freak Brothers. Peter Bagge carried the flame in the 1980s and afterwards in his stories about Buddy Bradley, as well as the Bradley clan and friends.

This is a tradition that is currently undervalued in comics right now (although Barney Google has been picking up fans), in large part because the dominant graphic novel mode tends to shy away from broad comedy and guffaws. It’s hard to remember this but back in the 1990s, it was common to talk about Bagge in the same conversation as the Hernandez Brothers and Clowes. I don’t think that goes on anymore. And certainly the Crumb that is celebrated these days – the Crumb of Weirdo and the sketchbooks – is very different than the Crumb of Fritz the Cat. Shelton’s work is largely the preserve of aging boomers who want comics that will remind them of their salad days and perhaps spark a flashback.

There are all sorts of reasons for the current eclipse of the tradition of the low mimetic comedy. One of the features of this tradition, at least in the Shelton-Bagge-Ollmann line, is that it tends to value plotting and dialogue more than image-making. The art in this tradition tends to be blunter and less subtle than that of more “literary” (for want of a better word) graphic novels. I’ve often thought that Bagge might actually have benefited from collaborating with an artist who could tone-down the art a little. (One of my favorite Bagge stories is a collaboration he did which was drawn by Clowes). This is one case where the auteurism of alternative comics might be a drawback.

I’m hoping that Ollmann’s book will a) be a success and 2) lead people to reappraise the tradition of low mimetic comedy in comics. It’s a lively tradition and some of this work – I’m thinking here especially of Bagge’s Bradley stories – deserves more attention than they’ve gotten in recent years. Among other things, those stories are (like Ollmann’s work) deeper and darker than they might first seem.
 
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  Tampa Bay Online reviews MID-LIFE

Updated March 11, 2011


Joe Ollmann is funny. And he's kind of old. Old and funny appeals to me these days because, well, I can relate.

If, like me, you find yourself in your 40s and looking for a laugh about being in your 40s, Ollmann delivers in "Mid-Life," especially if you appreciate the sort of guy who is curmudgeon before his time.

You'll also have to enjoy graphic novels because Ollmann, who lives in Montreal, is an award-winning cartoonist who in these pages shows his ample skills at panel grid storytelling.

"Mid-Life" revolves around a guy named John. Like a lot of people in their 40s, John has started a whole second act in his life. His first act was being a husband and father to two girls, starting in his late teens.

In his second act, he has divorced, remarried a younger woman and had a baby. Meanwhile, he's working as a magazine editor, dealing with pressure and deadlines, and suffering from a mid-life crisis as he realizes his body is starting to change and he is feeling his age and (oh no!) he has become invisible to women under 30.

In one large panel, Ollmann draws John in his underwear, and it's not a pretty picture. "My body is falling apart," John says. "Let me just list a few highlights."

Among them are:

Face. "Liver spots and wrinkles. This is the kind of (stuff) my Grandma had at age 96…and now, so do I."

Shoulders. "Sagging, plus bosoms!"

Knees. "Bending to pick up my young son is accompanied by a sound like four chopsticks breaking."

And so on. This sort of honesty about aging will fly right over the heads of all the young ones out there, but for us aging Generation Xers (and Baby Boomers before us) — well, it's full of insight and hilarity.

The story itself is less gripping, but there are moments of real comedy and lots of, "Oh, god, that is so (fill in the blank the name of your friend who has done something silly in his 40s)."

In short: John develops a crush on the young woman who sings the songs on his son's favorite television show, and then orchestrates an opportunity to meet her. Which he does, in New York City.

What happens then is as embarrassing and pathetic as any story you've heard about a middle-aged man trying to reach back and relive something from his past.

It's not classic literature, but there are laughs to be had along the way, and that's good news for anyone enduring the life-roiling experience of moving into their 40s.
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MID-LIFE in the Miami Herald

Updated March 11, 2011


Mid Life. Joe Ollmann. Drawn & Quarterly. 184 pages. $19.95.
Funny, serious, poignant and disgusting, Canadian art director and cartoonist Ollmann’s “semi-autobiographical” story of a 40-year-old with adult children remarried to a younger wife (and a father again) is a real treat. The nine-panel grid, used throughout the story, might be confining to some artists, but Ollmann’s story of mid-life dilemmas moves unrestrained through diverse settings and emotions. The depiction of the protagonist based on himself (though not entirely, he avers) is far from flattering but the authenticity, even in this fictional portrait of self-loathing, love for his children and angry pursuit of happiness, is no less genuine.
 
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  NPR calls MID-LIFE "cringingly smart and funny"

Updated March 11, 2011


Here's the 40-year-old hero of Canadian cartoonist Joe Ollman's new graphic novel Mid-Life, waxing cynically philosophic on the subject of adultery:

"You can be reasonably sure if you make a decision and you feel miserable and are having no fun, then you've made the right decision."

Okay, John Stuart Mill might have put a loftier moral spin on it, but you get the gist.

Consider our protagonist's plight, such as it is: He's got a new baby with his considerably younger second wife, and lately he's been ruminating on all the new and unexpected ways his body is already beginning to fail him. He's picturing himself growing older, frailer and flabbier — waning even as his son waxes into robust manhood. He's feeling emasculated by a household full of surly cats, an overtired spouse and a small, crying, pooping human. And then there's having to carry diaper bags around.

Which is to say: He's whining. Rather a lot.

But here's what saves Mid-Life from falling into the maelstrom of self-pity and self-justification that devours so many novels, memoirs and comics written by or about men at this stage of life: Both the author and his hero know he's whining.

In Ollman's hands, his hero John is a creature of reflexive self-recrimination and regret: His attempts to rationalize his rapidly metastasizing crush on children's performer Sherri Smalls are ridiculous to us -and to him. It's this ruthless, self-satirizing humor that fuels the book, and rounds out his character. It endears him to us, even as he goes about pursuing his crush (in a furtive, halting manner full of darting eyes and flop-sweat.)

Ollman's cartoony style, all sharp angles and oversized heads, lampoons John and his situation, but it also stirs our empathy: Ollman sticks to a claustrophobic nine-panel grid and uses it to convey John's sense that his job and family are stifling him.

The other thing that Mid-Life does that many other, similarly themed works can't be bothered to do is give a voice, and a life, to the object of John's crush. Half of Mid-Life is told from Sherri Small's perspective, and Ollman makes her palpably real.

She's got her own things to deal with: Her children's show is about to be bought by a network that wants to make some changes - changes like dumping her sidekick Mr. Peanuts (played by her boozy ex, in a monkey costume). As she struggles to broker that deal with a TV executive (caught between a monkey suit and a monkey suit, as it were), she finds herself intrigued by a note from a fan named John....

Mid-Life is bracingly (and occasionally cringingly) smart and funny about men, women, marriage and singlehood and it's told with humor, specificity and style.
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Pascal Girard and Joe Ollmann Tour Dates

Updated March 9, 2011


Meet up with these two fine Montreal artists in their home town or on the road in New York, Hamilton ***, Toronto and Vancouver!


Wednesday March 23, 7 PM | Montreal | D+Q Librairie

Sat & Sun April 9 & 10 | NYC | Mocca Festival

*** Wednesday April 13, 7 PM | Hamilton ON | Bryan Prince ***

Thursday April 14, 7 PM | Toronto | The Beguiling

Friday April 15, 7 PM | Vancouver | Lucky's

*** This event will be a solo launch for Joe Ollmann's Mid-Life
 

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Pascal Girard
Joe Ollmann

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Mid-Life
Reunion




  The National Post calls MID-LIFE a "superb graphic novel"

Updated March 4, 2011


The late novelist and essayist Wilfrid Sheed once argued that “cartooning is the most extreme form of cruelty allowed in civilized countries.” Sheed had a penchant for flashy generalizations but a shard of truth can be extracted from his too glib epigram. Cartooning is an art that at its essential core involves mockery, zeroing in on human flaws and foibles that are made visible by gross exaggeration. The prototypical cartoonist is the class clown, doodling away at caricatures that highlight the teacher’s expanding bald spot or a fellow student’s acne infestation.

The very form of comics involves an implicit critique of human pretenses to nobility and grandeur. A portrait painting or a sculpture can be life-size, if not larger. But a cartoon image of a person usually takes up less space than a credit card. In more ways than one, comics are a belittling art.

You can’t cartoon successfully without having a touch of malice in you. Pitiless ridicule is a thread that unites the tradition of cartooning that runs from William Hogarth to Mad magazine to Robert Crumb.

Yet countering this dominant tendency towards grotesque satire has been the effort of more recent cartoonists to eschew derision in favour of a more empathetic account of human life. Graphic novelists like Chris Ware and Seth have sought to replace smart alecky sniggering with melancholy stories about characters whose suffering is meant to evoke sympathy rather than guffaws.

It’s a measure of the ambition of Joe Ollmann’s new graphic novel Mid-Life that it tries to straddle the divide between these two very different comic traditions by being both satirical and compassionate, mocking the folly of his characters even as we learn to share in their pain.

Mid-Life tells the intertwined stories of two characters, John Olsen and Sharri Smalls, coming to terms with the fact that where they are as adults is not where they expected to be. Olsen is a 40-year-old Montreal magazine editor who has just started his second family, complete with a wailing newborn boy, which has to be balanced with his ties to his two daughters from his first marriage. Because Olsen started his first family when he was young, he regrets never really having any family-free fun years. He is periodically tempted to go on benders of heavy drinking and skirt chasing.

A few years younger than Olsen, Sharri Smalls also finds herself full of mid-life rue. She started off as a teenage rocker and proto-riot grrrl but eventually found a measure of success as a children’s singer who’s a hipper version of Raffi. Aside from worries about selling out by abandoning adult music, Smalls has to deal with the loneliness of an entertainer’s life. Whereas Olsen is overburdened with family obligations, Olsen desperately wants a life partner. The book alternates back and forth between Olsen and Smalls until their inevitable meeting.

The middle-age man with a wandering eye is a stock figure who can be treated with either bemusement (as in the film The Seven Year Itch) or with warm fellow-feeling (as in the fiction of Andre Dubus or John Updike). What makes Mid-Life unique is that it uses the formal properties of comics (the mixture of words and pictures) to examine John Olsen’s dilemma with both scorn and concern.

Olsen tells his own story in narrative captions, and we’re quickly won over by his self-lacerating sarcasm, reminiscent of winningly neurotic stand-up comedians such as Marc Maron and Louis C.K. The book opens with a hilarious reflection on the capacity of babies to produce human waste. “People marvel at a surgeon hold a living human heart in their hands,” Olsen reflects. “I’m more amazed at the ease with which a parent gets used to handling baby poop. … There’s more poop in my life than a German porn film.”

Complicating Olsen’s version are the drawings that accompany the captions, which are often unsparingly grotesque and sometimes undercut his version of events. Olsen periodically imagines himself as an aging but still potent hipster, a self-fantasy that is belied by the countless drawings of his paunchy belly, liver spots and sagging shoulders. Olsen does acknowledge these unprepossessing facts about himself, but he usually puts them out of his conscience. The reader, who is constantly looking at Olsen’s gargoyle visage, doesn’t have the character’s luxury of forgetting physical appearances.

Smalls is a much more likeable character, but the chapters devoted to her follow the same procedure of joining first person narration with drawing that complicate our sense of her situation. As in his earlier comic books, Ollmann demonstrates deftness in creating believable female characters, although it has to be said that one weakness in the book is the presentation of Chan, Olsen’s wife. She has one great scene where she talks honestly about the problems of her marriage with Olsen, but otherwise she’s a ghostly figure in this book.

The great strength of Mid-Life is Ollmann’s art, which might at a quick glance look unappetizing. He draws with a gnarly, blunt line and his characters have a misshapen, antagonizing appearance. Yet their ungainly surface is a perfect mirror for their messy lives. Rarely are form and content so aptly aligned in a comic book.

Mid-Life is a superb graphic novel, by turns hilarious and appalling. The story has a real hook to it; once you start reading about Olsen and Smalls you’ll want to find out what solution, if any, they can find for their angst. Mockery and sympathy don’t often go hand-in-hand but by some miracle of the cartoonist’s craft, Joe Ollmann combines laughter with pity.
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The Onion AV Club's round up features SCENES, MID-LIFE AND DENYS WORTMAN'S NEW YORK!

Updated March 4, 2011


Cartoonist Adrian Tomine was one of the great success stories of the ’90s mini-comics scene, wowing fans of DIY pop-art with both his breezy autobiographical strips and piercing literary short stories. Over the past decade, Tomine’s done well for himself as an illustrator and graphic novelist, but while he’s been performing on bigger stages, he’s done less of the kind of work that made him such an early standout. That’s what makes Tomine’s Scenes From An Impending Marriage (Drawn & Quarterly) such a treat. Originally written and drawn as a gift for the guests at Tomine’s wedding, Scenes From An Impending Marriage consists of short, funny vignettes about all the chores of getting hitched, like making an invitation list, hiring a DJ, and striving to look presentable. The book is an unexpected return to the mini-comics form—not unlike a serious rock band stepping back from concept albums to knock out a fun 45 again.
The expanded, hardbound Scenes is still small in size, which befits the light tone and the spare, character-focused art. And though the book isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, neither is it completely frivolous. Among its strengths: Scenes From An Impending Marriage accurately captures the peculiar blend of public and private that marks the beginning of a marriage. The betrothed couple is overwhelmed with thousands of tiny details, nearly all of which have more to do with how they’ll be perceived by their families and friends than with the couple’s actual preferences. (Throughout the book Tomine shows himself doing things he wouldn’t ordinarily do to prepare for the wedding, all while muttering, “This nonsense stops the minute we’re married.”) Tomine includes scenes of him and his fiancée dealing with their guilt over wasting so much money on a party they’re barely going to get to enjoy, and scenes where he imagines their friends greeting the news of the happy occasion with a shrug. It all feels very honest, and though Scenes From An Impending Marriage isn’t exactly revelatory, in a way that’s to be expected, because a newlywed’s rites of passage are familiar by design. If anything, it’s reassuring to know that even an artist as talented as Tomine had to suffer through the same crap as any other young groom.


Joe Ollman’s graphic novel Mid-Life (D&Q), on the other hand, does feel revelatory, because the protagonist’s situation is so particular and painful. The hero, John, is a 40-year-old art director for a general-interest magazine who finds reasons every day to lose his cool: his job, the two snippy grown daughters from his failed first marriage, or his exhausted new wife and their toddler son. When John becomes obsessed with a Laurie Berkner-like kiddie-music star named Sherri Smalls, he risks his family, his career, and his self-image to meet with her while on a business trip to New York. But even without the potential affair clouding his thoughts, John would likely be on the brink of self-destruction, because he’s constantly depressed about how much of his youth he’s squandered on a lifestyle he never really wanted.
Ollman (who previously wrote and drew the Doug Wright-winning story collection This Will All End In Tears) works here with cramped nine-panel pages, conveying both the drudgery and the clutter of John’s life. Ollman’s character designs verge on the grotesque at times, and his perspectives on both the children’s entertainment industry and middle-class family life seem overly influenced by clichéd notions of “cool” and “square.” (Sherri describes her own fans as “an audience of spoiled kiddies and their yuppie parents,” which is reductive even for a character who’s not happy with her career choices, while one of John’s biggest worries is that his son will never know that he was once a hip, vital guy.) But Mid-Life is remarkably nuanced within its rigid parameters. Ollman is a whiz with facial expressions and body language, depicting emotions as varied as uncontrolled rage, guilt, self-pity, and affection with just the right placement of an arm or an eyebrow. Plus, his characters are genuinely aware of how many of their decisions are based on bullshit obsessions with self-image.
What makes Mid-Life work so well both as fiction and as comics is the way Ollman has John and Sherri engage in running dialogues with themselves, with the better parts of their nature represented in a caption while the worst parts come out in what they actually say and do. The book approximates what it’s like to be at the halfway point of life, with memories and past regrets bleeding into daily interactions, even as middle-aged folks retain enough optimism about the future to keep pushing ahead. The second half of Mid-Life considers whether John’s flirtation with Sherri counts as an example of that optimism or as proof that he’s given up. And as Ollman pushes toward the resolution of his maybe-romance, his raw-looking art and frank writing build tension to rival any Hitchcock film.


Denys Wortman drew cartoons and illustrations for multiple New York magazines and newspapers between the ’20s and ’50s, but never became as well known as some of his peers, perhaps because his dense panels, sketchy lines, and whimsical captions lost some charm when reduced to a quarter-page. The James Sturm and Brandon Elston-edited Denys Wortman’s New York: Portrait Of The City In The 1930s and 1940s (D&Q) arranges hundreds of Wortman originals—saved in a shed by his son—into a tour through the city over the course of a single day. The impressions of city life over a half-century ago are invaluable, but even better, Denys Wortman’s New York features one panel per large-sized page, which does due justice to the artist’s detailed, dynamic drawings of fire escapes, busy lunch counters, jumping dance halls, and dimly lit parlors.
 
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  MID-LIFE reviewed on Syracuse.com

Updated March 4, 2011


Comics fans of a certain age confronting their own mortality might want to pick up Joe Ollmann's "Mid-Life" from Drawn & Quarterly. It's a darkly humorous tale of regular people at the halfway point in their lives wondering whatever happened to their dreams.

The story centers on John, a 40 year old magazine exec who, stressing out over job, family and ungrateful cats, sends an innocent (sort of) e-mail to Sherry, a children's performer that his son likes, and might make for a story for the magazine.
It doesn't hurt that John thinks that Sherry is a knock-out.

Meanwhile, Sherry is undergoing her own crisis, as her dreams of being a rock star are fading fast.
"Mid-Life" is hilarious, desperate, and filled with panic. It also contains scenes of drunken monkey violence. You have been warned.

Recommended for mature audiences.
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MID-LIFE listed in Paste Magazine's Comic Book Round-Up

Updated March 4, 2011


Mid-Life by Joe Ollmann
Drawn + Quarterly, March 2011
Rating: 7.9

Self-deprecating, self-revelatory humor can backfire in a hurry. It’s a very fine line to walk between “heh, this guy’s a regular Joe just like me, with my same personality flaws and pimples” and “ugh, I hate myself and now I hate you!” If you only read 10 pages of Joe Ollmann’s semi-autobiographical debut original graphic novel, you might come down on the latter side, but Ollmann is clever enough to pull off the balancing act. Unlike Joe Matt or Robert Crumb, whose work becomes progressively less tolerable the more pages you flip, Ollmann focuses more on the storyline he’s crafting, and the further you get into Mid-Life, the more you find yourself pleasantly surprised. His decision to move between the perspectives of two different characters as they converge seems initially like an error (and the Sherri Smalls sections don’t start out strong) but ends up reminding the reader of Alex Robinson’s gift for forging narrative unity out of multiple voices. Things actually happen in this book, and while its tone and artwork are mostly those of melancholic comedy it manages to touch some real emotional chords.
 
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  See Magazine talks upcoming comics

Updated February 18, 2011


The long-overdue death of the Comics Code Authority is quite a note to kick off a new year in comics.

Comics publishers established the CAA, similar to the former Hayes or Motion Pictures Production Code, after Congressional hearings on comic’s supposedly harmful effects. Now that Archie Comics has abandoned the code, it’s been rendered defunct.

What a marvelous signifier that the comics medium isn’t — and never was — mere pabulum for supposedly overly impressionable cherubs. Too bad men in tights are still looming; Google “most anticipated comics 2011,” and you get no shortage of articles touting the “Most Anticipated Superhero Movies of 2011.”

But enough bitching, this particular article is all sunshine. And the list it presents ignores superheroes altogether. Rather, the next several hundred words detail this nobody writer’s completely subjective picks for 2011’s most notable comics releases. If any books will make the diversity and potential of the medium shine this year, it’ll be these.

Scenes from an Impending Marriage (February)

Anything by the gifted Adrian Tomine should be trumpeted: his haunting 2007 Shortcomings was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book for that year. Perhaps no one, however, expected this lighthearted, loosely drawn collection of comic episodes concerning the artist’s own wedding.

In fact, Tomine’s fiancée suggests within the book that the project be a memento for guests. “I originally assumed that no one else would see the comic,” the cartoonist told this writer via email. Lucky us.



Mid-Life (March)

Montrealer Joe Ollmann’s 2007 This Will All End in Tears won best book at the Doug Wright Awards, the top honours for Canadian comics. Now comes his first book with perhaps the world’s premiere literary comics publisher, Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly.

Mid-Life concerns the titular crisis of 40-year-old John, who becomes a father again with his much-younger second wife. Viewable at D&Q’s website, Ollmann’s arch drawing style conveys the sense of pins-and-needles stress that can accompany aging — both naturally, and prematurely.



Reunion (April)

The third book from the Quebec City artist, Pascal Girard, is behind the spare, emotionally direct Nicolas, which also comes directly on the heels of his recent Bigfoot. The semi-autobiographical Reunion recounts an invitation for Girard to attend his ten-year high-school reunion — and be the date of an old crush.

Two problems: Girard already has a girlfriend. And he needs to drop some weight.

“He’s at his peak, style-wise,” says Frederic Gauthier, co-owner of Montreal-based La Pasteque, Girard’s francophone publisher. “And he’s gonna be a star very soon.”

Here’s your chance to like him before he’s too popular.

Paying For It (May)

It’s been awhile, but acclaimed Canadian artist Chester Brown is back with his first original graphic novel since 2003’s Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography.

Flipping up the lid of Brown’s sex life, Paying For It shares his misadventures as a former john. It’s also billed as an argument for the sex trade itself. And in the wake of this past fall’s landmark Ontario court decision striking down prostitution laws, its timeliness couldn’t be better.

Hark! A Vagrant (Fall, TBA)

Beaton’s comics have appeared in Harpers and The New Yorker, but she’s almost certainly best known for her comics website — the recipient of over a million monthly hits — that lampoons famous literary and (Canadian) historic figures.

D&Q has acquired the rights to her next collection. Thou be on lookout.

Carl Barks’ Donald Duck (Fall TBA)

The blog Robot 6 at Comicbookresources.com calls it “what is sure to be one of the most acclaimed comics events of 2011.”

As the blog explains, “the Barks library has been one of the great missing links in a time that many have dubbed the ‘golden age of reprints.’…Barks has long been regarded as one of the great cartoonists of the 20th century.”

Some have demurred, mind: in a 2008 blog entry at Sans Everything, in anticipation of the first D&Q reprint of Barks contemporary John Stanley’s Melvin Monster, comics historian/journalist Jeet Heer concluded “that Stanley was a much greater writer than Barks.” The debate took off from there in the comments.

Now any interested readers will have a better chance to decide for themselves.

Xerxes (Release date TBA)

One of comics’ biggest names returns in 2011: Frank Miller’s Xerxes, a prequel to the adapted-to-film-by-Zack Snyder 300, looks back to the rise of ancient Persian emperor Xerxes.

Never mind the criticism of 300, with no less than Hugo Award-winning comics writer/ demigod Alan Moore (Watchmen) attacking its historical accuracy. And forget that fans can’t decide whether it’s Miller or Moore who’s crazier (as per a Comicvine.com forum poll).

This is a comics event that can’t be ignored.

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas: Old Growth (TBA)

From the artist behind 2009’s comics and indigenous art-bending Red: A Haida Manga, this is a new collection of thirty years’ of pre-Haida manga political cartoons. Published through Vancouver’s Grunt Gallery, the volume should interest anyone with admiration for Yahgulanaas’s inimitable output (also presently showing at Edmonton’s Douglas Udell Gallery).

“The appetite for my haida manga and comics has proven quite broad,” Yahgulanaas says.

And there’s no question he’s presently in great demand: he’s speaking at Bard College in New York state in April, with Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman (Maus).
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Pascal Girard
Joe Ollmann

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Milk Teeth
Reunion
Paying For It




Comic Book Resources interviews JOE OLLMAN

Updated February 18, 2011


Unless you follow the small-press or Canadian cartooning scenes very closely, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Joe Ollmann before now. He’s been somewhat on the peripheries of the industry for a few years, though he’s won acclaim for short story collections like This Will All End in Tears. I suspect his star will rise considerably however, with this week’s release of his excellent Mid-Life, Ollman’s first graphic novel, courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.

The book follows John, an all-too self-aware middle aged dad (and fictional stand-in for Ollmann himself), who, while working on his second marriage and raising a toddler son, finds himself growing ever so slightly obsessed with Sherri Smalls, the children’s entertainer his young child currently enjoys watching and listening to. The book then switches perspectives between John, as his obsession grows and he attempts to find an excuse to head to New York and “interview” the object of his infatuation, and Smalls herself as she mulls over signing a lucrative TV contract and wonders why she’s been so unlucky in love up till now.

Hilarious in that way that only good, sharply observed, cringe-inducing comedy can, Mid-Life suggests that Ollmann has a long and laudable career ahead of him. I talked to him over email about the book, the trick of blending autobiography into fictional material and the perils of parenting. Despite my barrage of personal and potentially embarrassing questions, he remained polite and thoughtful throughout, for which I am tremendously grateful.


First of all, can you give me a bit of background about yourself? I have to confess I don’t know much about you beyond what the Inkstuds interview you did with Robin McConnell a few years ago. How did you get started in comics?

Sure. I’ve had a weird career, people have never heard of me, though I’ve been making comics for thirty-odd years, my first book, Chewing on Tinfoil, only came out in 2001. I had ten years of newspaper strips before that and various self-publishing projects, some of which were collected in The Big Book of Wag from Conundrum Press. But as far as proper comics or graphic novels, or whatever, I’m a late starter. I assume people see I’ve got some chops, but wonder where the hell I came from.

What got you interested in making comics? Did you always want to be a cartoonist? And, at the risk of sounding like an insensitive dolt, why do you think it’s taken so long for you to achieve wider recognition?

I’ve drawn comics all my life. I self-published three issues of weird, kind of super-hero comic in the black and white glut of the eighties, called Dirty Nails Comics. The shipping and brokerage fees nearly killed me with that one. I also have been periodically doing a little square-bound book called Wag! since 1989. I had a weekly strip in The Hamilton Spectator for five years and then did a monthly strip in Exclaim! for another five years. So, while I’ve always been working, it’s been pretty low-profile stuff. It wasn’t until the first book, Chewing on Tinfoil, with Insomniac, came out in 2001, that anyone ever heard of me. And there is always the question, why haven’t we heard of you before. It’s mostly just a lot of bad “career” choices I guess. I wish I had been doing books all of that time, I would have a much more sizable backlist. People would say; look at the size of that guy’s backlist!

What served as the inspiration for Mid-Life? I’m assuming (or at least hoping) that the work is largely fictional, even though the main character is drawn upon yourself. How much of the book, if any, was drawn from your actual life?

It’s half and half autobiography and fiction. I swore I wasn’t going to talk about what was what, but I realize now I have no reason not to and it’s the first question I get asked. Most of the elements, the two adult daughters from the first marriage, having another kid at forty with the second wife and being traumatized by that are all the real deal. The affair with the children’s performer, and the children’s performer herself are just fiction. That I’m still informed by my catholic upbringing is evidenced that my character isn’t even allowed to score in fiction.

How are your family and friends reacting to it? Does anyone object to the way they’re being portrayed?

I sent the script to my daughters and my wife before I started drawing. They were mostly fine I think. I’m the one coming off like a giant, half-naked, bloated, guilt-ridden clown in the thing, so I’m hoping they are mostly okay with it. Sam can’t read so I didn’t even bother to change his name. He’ll probably be the one who sues me.

It begs the question, though, if the book is inspired by your life but not drawn directly from it, why not take it completely into the realm of fiction? Why not disguise the main character more, so that readers don’t start assuming it’s 100 percent true and imagine that you’ve had an affair with Laurie Berkner (or whomever)?

I can’t say for sure why I didn’t make it straight fiction. I guess, part of it is pretty straight memoir and it would have seemed strange presenting long chunks of my life as fiction. I guess there’s the fact that I generally draw a character who looks like me in almost all the stories I do which has caused confusion in the past as to what is fiction and what is not. The story Oh Deer, from This Will All End in Tears, about the office worker who shoots a deer and can’t bring himself to butcher it is always assumed to be about me. I’ve been a vegetarian for like twenty years and people assume this horror story is the origin of that. But it was just a story I made up. I’ve never gone hunting and I never killed a deer, but I love the fact that people think I lived that. I guess it’s a strange mix in the end when you add the entirely fictional story of the children’s performer. I kind of like that messing around with, blurring the truth and fiction. Being John Malkovich was the first movie I can remember where a real character was playing themselves but in a fictionalized role, I guess it was also done on The Larry Sanders’ Show as well. It’s kind of wonderfully disconcerting. Ultimately, I’m not a well-known person, so it doesn’t much matter if people think it’s fiction or reality or what is actually real and what is made up. Laurie Berkner would never have an affair with me, but
she is an awesome children’s performer.

Is this your longest work to date? If so, did working on a longer project like this offer any unique challenges you didn’t expect?

Mid-life is twice as long as any previous story I’ve ever done. I guess there’s the obvious challenge of working on the same single project for so long lacks the satisfaction of doing an anthology of stories and crossing off the stories as you complete them and starting a new story all bushy-tailed and etc.

Then there’s the security of sending a group of stories out. If the readerhates one of them, you’re okay, they’re probably gonna like one of the others at least. In the case of a single story, if they don’t like it you are pretty screwed. So, that was nerve-wracking, asking yourself, is this a good enough story to put out there as a full-length book?

What were your biggest influences as far as putting Mid-Life together goes? What did (or didn’t) you read before starting work on it?

No direct conscious influences that I can think of. You know, the usual unconscious influences I suppose. Probably more influenced by the straight, written fiction I tend to read, I guess, T.C. Boyle, Peter Carey and Paul Auster
all come to mind (I admire them, I’m not saying I emulate or am influenced by these great writers, I just enjoy their work and wish I could do work of that calibre). In the last few years, writing-wise in comics I really admired Fun Home, George Sprott, and Wilson. That Seeing Eye Dogs of Mars issue of Chris Ware’s Acme made me sit up and stop taking Ware for granted, that was just an outstanding work in an already incredible run.

Mid-Life is very much a character-based comedy, by which I mean the focus is more on the individual characters than the plot machinations. How much time do you spend developing your characters beforehand? Do you do a lot of preliminary work figuring out what makes them tick or do you just start putting them on the page in the hopes they’ll surprise you?

Well, the real characters, are obviously based in part on my family, so I know them and getting them down is easy, but of course they are revised to make the story work better. The fictional characters, especially the children’s performer, Sherri, I spent a lot of time envisioning her back story and I also looked at my female friends around that same age and seeing where they are in their lives. I think maybe, younger women readers would strongly criticize my portrayal of Sherri as desperate for a relationship and obsessing about having a baby, etc., but I would counter that they’re not at the age of that character. And, you know, this is dangerous territory and I don’t necessarily want to piss people off, and I would agree that is not the norm for every woman at that age, but she’s just one character and I have seen those kind of obsessions with female friends at that age. Shit, I’ve had obsessions like those myself after my first marriage broke up. I was thinking every woman I met might be “the one” for me. So, as these characterizations come from experience a bit, they rarely “surprise” me as I’m not a mature enough writer to have characters to go off do things that I wouldn’t want them to do.

In the notes at the end of the book you note that Ian Brown’s article about caring for his disabled son affected you in putting together the book. How?

Well, in writing the book, which occurred long after my son was born, he was much older and therefore much easier to handle which took a lot of pressure off our relationship as well. So, I’m writing this story with me sniveling about my life, while I have three perfectly healthy wonderful kids that I love and I’m feeling like maybe the title should be Bourgeois Nightmare or something instead and then I read Ian Brown’s article about life with his disabled son. Just unflinchingly honest and unsentimental and this guy had real things to complain about. It really made me change my way of thinking in my life in a giant way. It made me realize it’s necessary to actually be consciously grateful for things in life and that that simple shift can actually improve your outlook and I mean, that’s basically the character John’s revelation in Mid-life. It’s not some giant revelation, but it makes a big difference.

You stick to a straight nine-panel grid for pretty much the whole book. Why and what did that structure give you and the book?

I pretty much exclusively use the nine-panel grid. I’m a pretty traditional, non-experimental storyteller so the format makes sense. I always say that I see the panel as a TV or movie screen. I wouldn’t change the shape or size of the TV or movie screen for an effect, so it never occurs to me to do that in a comic. I like when other people do it, but it doesn’t work for me. What I hope is that the uniformity of the frame is so ubiquitous that the reader eventually forgets it and just concentrates fully on the narrative.

Was making Mid-Life in any way cathartic for you? I ask because, while it’s obvious large swaths of the book are fictional, there are aspects — John talking about his first divorce, his awkward-at-times relationship with his daughters — that seem to cut close to the bone, to the point where I started wondering if you were trying to work through some painful memories. Not that you saw the book as an opportunity for self-analysis, but were there personal issues that, for whatever reasons, you found yourself addressing in the comic, intentionally or otherwise?

A bit cathartic in the confessional sense, but not really, the real issues in the book, the family stuff, had been pretty much worked through and resolved and was, years ago under the bridge stuff. Again, some of this stuff is semi-fictional, exaggerated at times, etc. My daughters and I have a pretty close relationship and we’ve talked pretty openly about a lot of this stuff. Also, I sent the script before I started drawing. But analyzing past events and behaviours and physically writing it out in words is always a good exercise.

One of the things I like best about the book is the way you portray parenthood as rewarding but also absolutely draining and incredibly frustrating. As a father of two I could completely identify with John’s anger and irritation with his children. Did you find it at all tricky to portray that accurately and yet still keep your lead a sympathetic character (not to mention his passive-aggressive attempts at having an affair and all)?

Yeah, well, having kids is hard work but it’s ultimately this amazing experience, so complaining about it is a pretty shitty, but entirely natural thing to do. But in a book, it could very easily just be a boring list of bourgeoisie whining; ooh, my kid keeps shitting their diaper, etc. which would be a drag to read I think. I think the only way to pull off this stuff is with humor, hyperbole and the self-referencial aspect of the narrator himself commenting on how he shouldn’t be complaining about his tiny problems, that he’s lucky and there are people out there with real problems. It’s kind of the crux of the whole book, really.

Why do you think John pursues Sherri the way he does? What do you think is driving his dissatisfaction? Bad job? Mortality? Self-loathing? All of the above?

Well, I think having kids can be a gigantic strain on a relationship for the first few years, and he’s at that stage, his formerly perfect relationship is very strained, so that’s one reason. And it coincides with him turning forty which is a traumatic time where a person starts to feel entirely invisible to the opposite sex, so they’re particularly receptive to any attention they do receive. I mean, just the usual, bullshit reasons why middle-aged dudes go out and pursues illicit affairs I guess.

What are you working on now? Do you have a follow-up project to Mid-Life in mind yet?

I’ve got the next three or for projects lined up. Another book of long short stories, called Sore Spots is written and storyboarded, ready to start drawing. They are really long stories and may actually be individual books instead of a collection. Then there’s the biography of the alcoholic, bondage -enthusiast, cannibal writer from the 40′s, William Seabrook. That’s been years of research and the script is nearly finished, so that is also coming up. It should be a massive book when it’s done. I’m also supposed to be doing a book called Milo and Sam with my old pal, Andy Brown of Conundrum Press. It’s a collection of short strips that form larger narratives based on us and our two sons. It’s half heart-felt outpourings of fatherly love and worries punctuated with malapropisms of little kids saying “cock” instead of clock. Kind of a post-mod Family Circus?
 
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Featured artist

Joe Ollmann

           Featured product

Mid-Life




  The Comic Reporter's Tom Spurgeon interviews JOE OLLMAN

Updated February 18, 2011


One of the things I like best about Joe Ollmann's comics is that they don't blink. Even in a book-length humor work like his new Mid-life, from Drawn & Quarterly, there are entire sequences where I sat agog that I was going to be exposed to every last bit of discomfort fostered by the situation he's decided to show us. I don't think Ollmann is one of those squirm comedians, piling on the recognizable miseries for the sake of reaching a breaking point; rather, he sees the world as a relentless drip drip drip of indignities and nettlesome situations through which one must grimace and/or shift uncomfortably in one's seat. A fixture of the rich Montreal cartooning scene with years of short stories and strip work to his credit, Ollmann leavens his portraits of messy living rooms, feral cats, rotten phone calls and embarrassing outfits with something of a traditionalist's belief in the value of incremental, real change in the face of life's demeaning assault. I had a lot of fun exchanging e-mails with him. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: Joe, is this the longest work you've ever done? I can't tell, but I think of you as a short-story writer, first and foremost. What was it about this story that made you want to tell it in this fashion, and was there any adjustment for you in working on something that was this many pages? Was there a commercial aspect involved, that you wanted a work that was more like the works that other cartoonists have been doing?

JOE OLLMANN: Yeah, Mid-life is twice as long as anything I've done before. I definitely have previously been a short-story guy exclusively and I'm presently writing four new shorts which were to be one book called Sore Spots, though in the writing process they each stretched out into like 85-page stories and may be individual books some day.

It was partially a commercial move in that short story collections seem like a hard sell to publishers and the public, and I guess and I had a fantasy of some giant, mainstream literary publisher wanting to break into the "graphic novel" market and for some reason giving me a grotesque advance (that I only managed to get published by friggin' D&Q has been a life-long dream realized, so I'm not complaining).

But mostly, my stories have, of their own accord, gotten longer, from the fairly short ones in Chewing on Tinfoil to the slightly longer ones in This Will All End in Tears. It's kind of a feeling of getting away from the economy of newspaper strips which I had been doing for years to realizing you could allow a bit of space in the pacing and that it wasn't a rip-off to the reader if nothing happened in a panel or two.

SPURGEON: I tried to think of some clever way to ask you the autobiographical question but I failed. Is there any way you'd prefer to talk about how close the work in question is to your own life, and the various decisions you've made to incorporate parts of story that you know into this work? Did you ever regret the decision to make what seems like -- and maybe only seems like -- a work that uses your own life as a springboard?

OLLMANN: Sure, I'll talk about it. Parts of Mid-life are pure, if thinly veiled autobiography. You can't really choose not to talk about what's autobiographical in a book when you make the main character's name John Olsen and my name is Joe Ollmann. It's like that Son of Dracula movie when the Count in disguise, goes by the name Count Alucard. As a kid, I was all like, "He's Dracula! It's just his name backwards!" I digress, but yeah, I am married for the second time after an 18-year child-bride marriage that ended in heartbreaking, ball-breaking, life-crushing disaster, and I had another kid with my second wife just as I turned 40, I have two adult daughters from the first marriage who also have thinly-disguised names in the book. Having a kid at 40 was fairly traumatic for me maybe as I was just naturally feeling my age or maybe because I had already gone through this stuff so long before and the déjà vu was a bit overpowering.

The affair part is pure fiction, except for the genesis of the character John's obsession with the children's performer, which was suggested by my daughter Liz mocking me for being too enthusiastic about a certain children's performer on a DVD that my son Sam and I were watching. That happened exactly as it does in the book, everything after that is just me making shit up. Even the stuff that is real was altered to fit the story a bit. I'm a regular James Frey.

It's funny, because various reviewers of my past books have speculated that stories with the character I draw which looks a lot like me were autobiography and none of the depressing crap in those stories was mine, beyond the odd little details that every writer steals from their own life. The fact that people thought this stuff was from my life, I took to be a compliment, so it'll be interesting to see the reaction to stuff that really is from life.

I don't really regret writing about this stuff, I'm a pretty open book as anyone who's ever been cornered by me at a party while I drunkenly reveal stories of my marital breakup and my dark years of drunkenness can attest. My main concern was how my kids and wife would feel about it, so I gave them all the script before I started drawing. Then I changed their names so they couldn't sue me. Sam can't read yet, so he just gets dragged along. The reaction was mostly positive. Anyway, I mean, I'm the one coming off like a jackass in my underwear through the whole thing.

SPURGEON: Two follow-ups, one direct and one more of a springboard. First, what's it like to turn that much of your personality into art? Does it provide a way of working through some issues, does it allow you to view your behavior in a different light? Certainly a difference between you and your lead is this kind of obvious inventory you get by examining yourself that way.

OLLMANN: Well, you think it would be embarrassing or something revealing person details, but when you cleverly disguise it by making those elaborate name changes it's kind of freeing. [Spurgeon laughs] As I get older I kind of realize that no matter what crap you've gone through someone else has gone through the same or worse. That's why I put that quote from Terence in there, "I am a man: I hold that nothing human is alien to me." Nothing much ever shocks me and I assume most people are the same.

There is a bit of the idea of therapy on paper in this for the simple reason you have to reexamine the past and analyze it a bit and also knowing that the other people involved in it will read it forces a sense of over-honesty. That's probably why I come off as such a dick in the story.



SPURGEON: Second one, the springboard one. The other big noticeable decision you made in making this book, I think, is making Sherri a second identification character, a second lead, really, as opposed to telling the entire story through John's eyes. Why did you make that decision, what appealed to you about bringing her up on stage in the same way that we follow John around?

OLLMANN: That kind of happened in the writing stage, seeing that she was in her own kind of mid-life crisis, though she's younger. It just seemed obvious that I needed to write the character Sherri's inner dialogue on the direction of her career and her reactions to the John character. It was a bit of a conscious decision too, in realizing in a longer work needed more complexity than a single story focus. It was tricky to make it clear when the narration switches from John to Sherri. I toyed with the idea of different lettering for each narrator, but in the end thought it was clear enough.



SPURGEON: I took a brief look at your blog, and noticed that you wrote positively of both Jeffrey Brown and Jim Aparo, albeit for completely different reasons, neither of which was part of any kind of comprehensive list of influences. It still suggested a question. How much are you inspired by peers like Brown, and how much are you able to incorporate techniques and approaches in new work into your own. Or are you set in your ways?

OLLMANN: Oh, my blog. I'd almost forgotten about that thing. I really gotta get better at that, get some new content, the kids, they like new content. Jim Aparo was, I think, one of the most underrated, taken-for-granted of all the DC artists, but that's another story.

I would say I'm inspired by a lot of comic artists out there for a lot of different reasons, I guess I am influenced by them by osmosis as I am by every book I read, movie I watch, etc. At this stage, I'm pretty set in my ways creatively and I'm fairly careful to avoid any conscious or unconscious borrowing from other artists. Some of the people whose work I admire the most; Chris Ware, Seth, Dan Clowes, are visual stylists and experimental in their narrative approaches, while I, a structural traditionalist, could never hope to mimic that even if I wanted to. As my old pal Billy Mavreas said, "You're not a visionary, Joe."



SPURGEON: One thing I found sort of interesting throughout is how unpleasant a lot of your character designs are -- you're really ruthless in terms of drawing people's physical shortcomings, and while your style allows for pleasant-looking people you're not exactly drawing on notions of the physical ideal. How conscious are you that your characters look a certain way and is anything about that a reaction to other people's art?

OLLMANN: Tom, that's probably just my limitations as a cartoonist. Seriously, I find drawing ugly-ish people amusing, but I didn't specifically set out to draw a cast of grotesques or anything. I realized in drawing this last book, that I need to work harder at the drawing and be a lot more careful in regards to continuity, etc. in the process. Being published by a publisher of the stature of D&Q made me want to make the best-looking book I could and I redrew a lot of pages and panels before I submitted it and then after Tom Devlin mercilessly critiqued what was left, he guilted me into redrawing a shitload more, God bless him.

Some of my favourite artists, such as Dan Clowes or Lynda Barry, draw almost exclusively ugly characters, but they are still pleasing to look at. It's partially their skills and partially some other intangible. Other people can draw perfectly competent cartoon drawings, with skill and still you look at them and they annoy you, they're unpleasant to look at and ostensibly, not intentionally. I hope I'm not completely in that realm, though some of my own drawings do make me sick when I see them in print.

The problem I have with not drawing a character completely consistent from panel-to-panel is one that I plan to address in the future by making simpler character designs or merely acclimatizing my self with them longer before setting down to draw. As is common with me in most books I do, I redrew the first five pages or so of Mid-life several times, before I had the feel of the book down.



SPURGEON: Another question, slightly related to the one about longer works -- how do you pace a scene? I liked a couple of the early set pieces in Mid-life, like the one where you talk to the abusive co-worker, and I wondered how conscious you are of really making a scene work within the wider framework of story?

OLLMANN: That stuff all occurs kind of intuitively with me. Though I do work out a story in great detail in my head for months, months before I ever begin writing it down. When I do put it on paper it is pretty final, I do minor text revisions when I type up the script, but that's it. When I storyboard a script, as I'm generally working with a nine-panel grid, it is necessary that certain actions will occur at the beginning or end of the page and it generally works out perfectly as I break the script into pictures. Just as Mid-life was divided into two parts or books, exactly in the middle of the narrative, it all occurred accidentally, or I'm some kind of Rainman of comic scripting or something.

SPURGEON: That brings up another craft issue, which is that I decided I like your lettering and what I think I like about it after some reflection is that the text has a very insistent place within your word balloons, it crowds out the white space and presses against the balloons themselves. You also allow some broken line, which I think guarantees that we read the dialogue as speech. Are you happy with your lettering, do you take time with and try to use it for specific effect?

OLLMANN: Well, that's a first! My lettering is pretty much universally despised by all my cartoonist friends. I'll be quoting from this text next time they attack. It's really something that I just try and make technically (neater) better. But I've really never given enough import to the mechanics of lettering. I've really begun studying everyone's lettering and I find I admire the shape of balloons and the spaciousness inside the balloons. It's another thing I need to pay a bit more attention to. The other problem is I'm overly verbose, there's a lot of words to fit in most panels, so I'm often I'm reduced to cramming things in and fixing the lettering later.

SPURGEON: This may also be intuitive, but a couple of things about the Sherri story struck me. Did you give her multiple male figures to bounce off of on purpose, because I liked that in a structural sense, as a way of seeing her react to extremely different personality types? Did you think of how those characters related to John at all, because in some ways each guy is a reflection of something in his personality.

OLLMANN: Yeah, the male characters in Sherri's story were there to show her reactions to them at that point in her life. So many of my female friends that have always been attracted to bad-boy types reach a point when the appeal, in theory, of a more mature, less complicated man is much greater than the sexy tough guy that only gets more pathetic as he gets older anyway. In the story, Sherri is decidedly at that point.

All the male characters were definitely meant to be foils to John who seems to represent a lot of the best of their characteristics while he's actually a confused, lying sack of crap.

SPURGEON: How sympathetic are you in terms of the world Sherri inhabits and the career choice that she makes? Because I think that you did a fine job communicating the relative ambiguity of her feelings about the decisions in front of her, the kind of decisions that could easily be seen as a cliché. Also, since you didn't really go that far into what decision she made, what role did her having that decision to mull over play in the book, do you think? Certainly John has very few such decisions to make.

OLLMANN: Well, I mean it's an interesting idea that she would hesitate taking a lucrative gig making music professionally just because it's for kids and therefore not exactly what she wants to do. I see that happen a lot with artists and cartoonists, bitching about working in some art-related job that isn't exactly what they want to do. I've worked in factories a lot as a young kid so for me, working in anything art related for me is like the realization of that child-box-factory worker's dusty little dreams. I'd love to be one of the three or four humans in the world that make comics full-time with no day-job but it's never going to happen, so I work my ass off in my basement every night and I like it. Just so I don't come off like some cranky old Al Capp type, I will say I can sympathize with not wanting to compromise your art. I guess.



SPURGEON: Do you think Sherri was genuinely attracted to John? If so, why? If you don't want to talk about that so bluntly, can you talk about how you approached what Sherri did in that section of the book and why, what felt right to you about those moments?

OLLMANN: I think she was attracted to him. I think she was at one of those stages where a person is attracted to the potential relationship with almost everyone they see. I've been there, after my first marriage went to hell, I regularly fell in love with the back of girls' head on the bus, I'd be drinking out of my flask, breathing whiskey fumes thinking; "I wonder if she'll notice me." Sherri's kind of at that place in the story, plus she and John actually get on well. If he wasn't married and lying to her, I would assume they could have got along really well. I actually based much of their conversation on the first meeting I had with present wife and we're still together.

SPURGEON: One part of John's story that I wanted to ask about the way you portrayed his relation to the office setting more than the setting himself. It seems to me that you captured something of the always-in-turmoil feel that a lot of people have about their jobs, the way you can go from office hero to office zero in a few seconds. How much do you feel John's personality is shaped by the job he has, and although I know this might cover stuff we looked at already, how closely do your attitudes about his office mirror your own?

OLLMANN: The character John is very much what I once was myself, investing a lot of time and energy to their job, often to the detriment of their personal life. My last job as art director at a yoga magazine -- and, yes, the exposé book, Help, I'm being Held Prisoner in a Yoga Factory is coming soon -- nearly killed me with the investment of time and energy and a need to put more in than anyone else nearly finished me. It ended in heartbreak when they fired all the men at the magazine. It changed the way I see work, again coinciding exactly with turning forty. When my boss at my present art production job asked me if I wanted to take on more responsibility, I was like, I kinda would rather be a farmer or something than have more responsibility at work. So I'm the farmer of the office which I find is a lot healthier all around.

SPURGEON: I liked Peter Bagge's quote on the back of the book. For whatever strange and unfair reason Bagge's maybe not as immediate a figure in comics as he might have been 15-20 years ago. What do you appreciate about his work? Has it informed your own? It seems you have similar sensibilities.

OLLMANN: Peter Bagge is a giant, really. I used to copy his gag comics back when I was a kid in high school to amuse my cohorts. Those early Neat Stuff books were terribly funny. But it was more interesting to watch Hate and how the Buddy Bradley character and all those stories gradually grew so much more complex, in the earlier, throwaway stuff, you could see that he was capable of bigger things. His character designs are so strong and unique and he's a fantastic letterer, really, an all-around craftsman. That recent Vertigo book he did, Other Lives, was great. I would hope his stuff isn't passing under any radar or anything.



SPURGEON: He makes note of your adherence to the nine-panel grid. What is it that appeals to you about that particular page construction; what works about it for you?

OLLMANN: The nine-panel thing just seems natural to me. I see the panels as a movie screen or an TV screen. No one changes the size or shape of a movie screen in the middle of a movie, right? That's kind of how I see it with my work, I just pan and scan, close-up and longshot, within that framework. I like watching other people's experiments in design; it just never occurs to me to do that. It also is a technical necessity, as that nine-panel grid gives me tall, narrow panels that better accommodate my voluminous narrations.

SPURGEON: Is there any chance we might see a longer color piece from you in the future? I like the watercolor look of the cover.

OLLMANN: It's weird working in color as I've only done black and white for so long. I'd be up for it, I suppose. I really love gray-scale ink wash; that's what I'd like to do next. As far as color goes, that Brecht Evens D&Q book, The Wrong Place, is some of the finest color work I've seen in years, both in terms of color palettes and execution. Also, Alex Fellows who did that book Canvas is doing an on-line color piece that is really beautiful.

SPURGEON: Having your first big book out would seem to me a natural time for reflection as to your comics output generally. Are you happy with the way things are right now comics career-wise? Are you devoted to doing more works of a similar length and ambition?


OLLMANN: Well, I have then next three projects written and ready to draw. I just need more time. Since I turned 40 I really feel like a Robert Johnson song and death's spidery fingers are trying to get me before I finish stuff, so it drives me to work a lot harder. I'm happy where I am mostly. Being published by D&Q is just incredible, really. I feel so lucky to be published by them and to finally have french flaps.

I've had a strange career where I spent about ten years devoted to two different newspaper strip projects, a weekly and a monthly, five years of each, and they were almost my sole output during that time. I wish now that I had been making comic books instead at that time. It feels like a lot of wasted time in a way. Though, delivering the strips to the newspaper, walking through the offices, high-fiving reporters and yelling sarcastic remarks always made me feel like I was in an episode of Lou Grant or something, you know, so it was a good experience, too, that I'm lucky to have had as the newspaper comic slowly dies. Plus, the discipline of meeting deadlines stays with me even when I don't have deadlines.



I guess I see myself doing the same kind of work I'm doing now, hopefully improving rather than worsening. I am experimenting a little as one of the scripts I'm finishing is a biography of the travel writer/alcoholic/cannibal/S&M guy, William Seabrook. That's been several years of research, thousands of dollars in out-of-print books and traveling to different archives, then settling down to sort it all out and make a narrative that doesn't read like old Classic Comics. I'm actually reading Tintin with my son lately and toying with the idea of using a 12-panel grid for the Seabrook book, so I ain't dead yet!
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Straight.com reviews MID-LIFE

Updated February 18, 2011


Joe Ollmann says his new graphic novel is semi-autobiographical. The Montreal-based artist is in no hurry to reveal what's true in Mid-Life and what's fiction, and from a reader's standpoint it doesn't really matter. For Ollmann's sake, though, let's hope some of the bad bits are made-up.

The protagonist of Mid-Life is the cleverly named John Olsen (you see what Ollmann did there?). From the outside, the guy's got it pretty good, with an adoring wife and adorable baby at home, and a stable white-collar design gig at a magazine. But John's not happy. At 40, he's convinced his body is in rapid decline, his creativity is being squandered, and parenting an infant boy as he himself enters middle age is making him feel impossibly old and decrepit.

It's a classic midlife crisis. Our goatee-sporting hero's response to it is to systematically, albeit unconsciously, screw up all the things he should be working hard to maintain: his relationship with his two adult daughters, his career, and his marriage.

Things take a turn for the worse when John develops a long-distance crush on children's entertainer Sherri Smalls. When he arranges to meet her in New York while he's ostensibly there for work...well, that's the climax of his darkly amusing personal turmoil and also of the book, so I can't say more than that.

Ollmann's liver-spots-and-all depiction of his semi-fictional stand-in is frank and comically unflattering, but we root for him even as we want to throttle him for every boneheaded misstep. Unlike, say, Daniel Clowes's misanthropic Wilson, Olsen seems one epiphany away from redemption. I've never wanted two characters to not hook up as much as I did John and Sherri.
 
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  MID-LIFE reviewed on Newsarama

Updated February 11, 2011


Review excerpt:....

There’s obviously a lot of angst in the pages of this book, a graphic novel in the truest sense of the word—it’s really and truly a novel, in form and structure, that happens to be told in comics instead of prose—but it’s always genuinely amusing angst. Certainly the characters have a sense of humor about it, joking about the little tragedies and indignities of their lives, and there is plenty of opportunity for the awkward laughter of relief, of the At least this isn’t happening to me sort....
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Tom Spurgeon of the Comics Reporter interviews Joe Ollmann

Updated February 9, 2011


CR Sunday Interview: Joe Ollmann
February 6, 2011
Tom Spurgeon

One of the things I like best about Joe Ollmann's comics is that they don't blink. Even in a book-length humor work like his new Mid-life, from Drawn & Quarterly, there are entire sequences where I sat agog that I was going to be exposed to every last bit of discomfort fostered by the situation he's decided to show us. I don't think Ollmann is one of those squirm comedians, piling on the recognizable miseries for the sake of reaching a breaking point; rather, he sees the world as a relentless drip drip drip of indignities and nettlesome situations through which one must grimace and/or shift uncomfortably in one's seat. A fixture of the rich Montreal cartooning scene with years of short stories and strip work to his credit, Ollmann leavens his portraits of messy living rooms, feral cats, rotten phone calls and embarrassing outfits with something of a traditionalist's belief in the value of incremental, real change in the face of life's demeaning assault. I had a lot of fun exchanging e-mails with him. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: Joe, is this the longest work you've ever done? I can't tell, but I think of you as a short-story writer, first and foremost. What was it about this story that made you want to tell it in this fashion, and was there any adjustment for you in working on something that was this many pages? Was there a commercial aspect involved, that you wanted a work that was more like the works that other cartoonists have been doing?

JOE OLLMANN: Yeah, Mid-life is twice as long as anything I've done before. I definitely have previously been a short-story guy exclusively and I'm presently writing four new shorts which were to be one book called Sore Spots, though in the writing process they each stretched out into like 85-page stories and may be individual books some day.

It was partially a commercial move in that short story collections seem like a hard sell to publishers and the public, and I guess and I had a fantasy of some giant, mainstream literary publisher wanting to break into the "graphic novel" market and for some reason giving me a grotesque advance (that I only managed to get published by friggin' D&Q has been a life-long dream realized, so I'm not complaining).

But mostly, my stories have, of their own accord, gotten longer, from the fairly short ones in Chewing on Tinfoil to the slightly longer ones in This Will All End in Tears. It's kind of a feeling of getting away from the economy of newspaper strips which I had been doing for years to realizing you could allow a bit of space in the pacing and that it wasn't a rip-off to the reader if nothing happened in a panel or two.

SPURGEON: I tried to think of some clever way to ask you the autobiographical question but I failed. Is there any way you'd prefer to talk about how close the work in question is to your own life, and the various decisions you've made to incorporate parts of story that you know into this work? Did you ever regret the decision to make what seems like -- and maybe only seems like -- a work that uses your own life as a springboard?

OLLMANN: Sure, I'll talk about it. Parts of Mid-life are pure, if thinly veiled autobiography. You can't really choose not to talk about what's autobiographical in a book when you make the main character's name John Olsen and my name is Joe Ollmann. It's like that Son of Dracula movie when the Count in disguise, goes by the name Count Alucard. As a kid, I was all like, "He's Dracula! It's just his name backwards!" I digress, but yeah, I am married for the second time after an 18-year child-bride marriage that ended in heartbreaking, ball-breaking, life-crushing disaster, and I had another kid with my second wife just as I turned 40, I have two adult daughters from the first marriage who also have thinly-disguised names in the book. Having a kid at 40 was fairly traumatic for me maybe as I was just naturally feeling my age or maybe because I had already gone through this stuff so long before and the déjà vu was a bit overpowering.

The affair part is pure fiction, except for the genesis of the character John's obsession with the children's performer, which was suggested by my daughter Liz mocking me for being too enthusiastic about a certain children's performer on a DVD that my son Sam and I were watching. That happened exactly as it does in the book, everything after that is just me making shit up. Even the stuff that is real was altered to fit the story a bit. I'm a regular James Frey.

It's funny, because various reviewers of my past books have speculated that stories with the character I draw which looks a lot like me were autobiography and none of the depressing crap in those stories was mine, beyond the odd little details that every writer steals from their own life. The fact that people thought this stuff was from my life, I took to be a compliment, so it'll be interesting to see the reaction to stuff that really is from life.

I don't really regret writing about this stuff, I'm a pretty open book as anyone who's ever been cornered by me at a party while I drunkenly reveal stories of my marital breakup and my dark years of drunkenness can attest. My main concern was how my kids and wife would feel about it, so I gave them all the script before I started drawing. Then I changed their names so they couldn't sue me. Sam can't read yet, so he just gets dragged along. The reaction was mostly positive. Anyway, I mean, I'm the one coming off like a jackass in my underwear through the whole thing.

SPURGEON: Two follow-ups, one direct and one more of a springboard. First, what's it like to turn that much of your personality into art? Does it provide a way of working through some issues, does it allow you to view your behavior in a different light? Certainly a difference between you and your lead is this kind of obvious inventory you get by examining yourself that way.

OLLMANN: Well, you think it would be embarrassing or something revealing person details, but when you cleverly disguise it by making those elaborate name changes it's kind of freeing. [Spurgeon laughs] As I get older I kind of realize that no matter what crap you've gone through someone else has gone through the same or worse. That's why I put that quote from Terence in there, "I am a man: I hold that nothing human is alien to me." Nothing much ever shocks me and I assume most people are the same.

There is a bit of the idea of therapy on paper in this for the simple reason you have to reexamine the past and analyze it a bit and also knowing that the other people involved in it will read it forces a sense of over-honesty. That's probably why I come off as such a dick in the story.

SPURGEON: Second one, the springboard one. The other big noticeable decision you made in making this book, I think, is making Sherri a second identification character, a second lead, really, as opposed to telling the entire story through John's eyes. Why did you make that decision, what appealed to you about bringing her up on stage in the same way that we follow John around?

OLLMANN: That kind of happened in the writing stage, seeing that she was in her own kind of mid-life crisis, though she's younger. It just seemed obvious that I needed to write the character Sherri's inner dialogue on the direction of her career and her reactions to the John character. It was a bit of a conscious decision too, in realizing in a longer work needed more complexity than a single story focus. It was tricky to make it clear when the narration switches from John to Sherri. I toyed with the idea of different lettering for each narrator, but in the end thought it was clear enough.

SPURGEON: I took a brief look at your blog, and noticed that you wrote positively of both Jeffrey Brown and Jim Aparo, albeit for completely different reasons, neither of which was part of any kind of comprehensive list of influences. It still suggested a question. How much are you inspired by peers like Brown, and how much are you able to incorporate techniques and approaches in new work into your own. Or are you set in your ways?

OLLMANN: Oh, my blog. I'd almost forgotten about that thing. I really gotta get better at that, get some new content, the kids, they like new content. Jim Aparo was, I think, one of the most underrated, taken-for-granted of all the DC artists, but that's another story.

I would say I'm inspired by a lot of comic artists out there for a lot of different reasons, I guess I am influenced by them by osmosis as I am by every book I read, movie I watch, etc. At this stage, I'm pretty set in my ways creatively and I'm fairly careful to avoid any conscious or unconscious borrowing from other artists. Some of the people whose work I admire the most; Chris Ware, Seth, Dan Clowes, are visual stylists and experimental in their narrative approaches, while I, a structural traditionalist, could never hope to mimic that even if I wanted to. As my old pal Billy Mavreas said, "You're not a visionary, Joe."

SPURGEON: One thing I found sort of interesting throughout is how unpleasant a lot of your character designs are -- you're really ruthless in terms of drawing people's physical shortcomings, and while your style allows for pleasant-looking people you're not exactly drawing on notions of the physical ideal. How conscious are you that your characters look a certain way and is anything about that a reaction to other people's art?

OLLMANN: Tom, that's probably just my limitations as a cartoonist. Seriously, I find drawing ugly-ish people amusing, but I didn't specifically set out to draw a cast of grotesques or anything. I realized in drawing this last book, that I need to work harder at the drawing and be a lot more careful in regards to continuity, etc. in the process. Being published by a publisher of the stature of D&Q made me want to make the best-looking book I could and I redrew a lot of pages and panels before I submitted it and then after Tom Devlin mercilessly critiqued what was left, he guilted me into redrawing a shitload more, God bless him.

Some of my favourite artists, such as Dan Clowes or Lynda Barry, draw almost exclusively ugly characters, but they are still pleasing to look at. It's partially their skills and partially some other intangible. Other people can draw perfectly competent cartoon drawings, with skill and still you look at them and they annoy you, they're unpleasant to look at and ostensibly, not intentionally. I hope I'm not completely in that realm, though some of my own drawings do make me sick when I see them in print.

The problem I have with not drawing a character completely consistent from panel-to-panel is one that I plan to address in the future by making simpler character designs or merely acclimatizing my self with them longer before setting down to draw. As is common with me in most books I do, I redrew the first five pages or so of Mid-life several times, before I had the feel of the book down.

SPURGEON: Another question, slightly related to the one about longer works -- how do you pace a scene? I liked a couple of the early set pieces in Mid-life, like the one where you talk to the abusive co-worker, and I wondered how conscious you are of really making a scene work within the wider framework of story?

OLLMANN: That stuff all occurs kind of intuitively with me. Though I do work out a story in great detail in my head for months, months before I ever begin writing it down. When I do put it on paper it is pretty final, I do minor text revisions when I type up the script, but that's it. When I storyboard a script, as I'm generally working with a nine-panel grid, it is necessary that certain actions will occur at the beginning or end of the page and it generally works out perfectly as I break the script into pictures. Just as Mid-life was divided into two parts or books, exactly in the middle of the narrative, it all occurred accidentally, or I'm some kind of Rainman of comic scripting or something.

SPURGEON: That brings up another craft issue, which is that I decided I like your lettering and what I think I like about it after some reflection is that the text has a very insistent place within your word balloons, it crowds out the white space and presses against the balloons themselves. You also allow some broken line, which I think guarantees that we read the dialogue as speech. Are you happy with your lettering, do you take time with and try to use it for specific effect?

OLLMANN: Well, that's a first! My lettering is pretty much universally despised by all my cartoonist friends. I'll be quoting from this text next time they attack. It's really something that I just try and make technically (neater) better. But I've really never given enough import to the mechanics of lettering. I've really begun studying everyone's lettering and I find I admire the shape of balloons and the spaciousness inside the balloons. It's another thing I need to pay a bit more attention to. The other problem is I'm overly verbose, there's a lot of words to fit in most panels, so I'm often I'm reduced to cramming things in and fixing the lettering later.

SPURGEON: This may also be intuitive, but a couple of things about the Sherri story struck me. Did you give her multiple male figures to bounce off of on purpose, because I liked that in a structural sense, as a way of seeing her react to extremely different personality types? Did you think of how those characters related to John at all, because in some ways each guy is a reflection of something in his personality.

OLLMANN: Yeah, the male characters in Sherri's story were there to show her reactions to them at that point in her life. So many of my female friends that have always been attracted to bad-boy types reach a point when the appeal, in theory, of a more mature, less complicated man is much greater than the sexy tough guy that only gets more pathetic as he gets older anyway. In the story, Sherri is decidedly at that point.

All the male characters were definitely meant to be foils to John who seems to represent a lot of the best of their characteristics while he's actually a confused, lying sack of crap.

SPURGEON: How sympathetic are you in terms of the world Sherri inhabits and the career choice that she makes? Because I think that you did a fine job communicating the relative ambiguity of her feelings about the decisions in front of her, the kind of decisions that could easily be seen as a cliche. Also, since you didn't really go that far into what decision she made, what role did her having that decision to mull over play in the book, do you think? Certainly John has very few such decisions to make.

OLLMANN: Well, I mean it's an interesting idea that she would hesitate taking a lucrative gig making music professionally just because it's for kids and therefore not exactly what she wants to do. I see that happen a lot with artists and cartoonists, bitching about working in some art-related job that isn't exactly what they want to do. I've worked in factories a lot as a young kid so for me, working in anything art related for me is like the realization of that child-box-factory worker's dusty little dreams. I'd love to be one of the three or four humans in the world that make comics full-time with no day-job but it's never going to happen, so I work my ass off in my basement every night and I like it. Just so I don't come off like some cranky old Al Capp type, I will say I can sympathize with not wanting to compromise your art. I guess.

SPURGEON: Do you think Sherri was genuinely attracted to John? If so, why? If you don't want to talk about that so bluntly, can you talk about how you approached what Sherri did in that section of the book and why, what felt right to you about those moments?

OLLMANN: I think she was attracted to him. I think she was at one of those stages where a person is attracted to the potential relationship with almost everyone they see. I've been there, after my first marriage went to hell, I regularly fell in love with the back of girls' head on the bus, I'd be drinking out of my flask, breathing whiskey fumes thinking; "I wonder if she'll notice me." Sherri's kind of at that place in the story, plus she and John actually get on well. If he wasn't married and lying to her, I would assume they could have got along really well. I actually based much of their conversation on the first meeting I had with present wife and we're still together.

SPURGEON: One part of John's story that I wanted to ask about the way you portrayed his relation to the office setting more than the setting himself. It seems to me that you captured something of the always-in-turmoil feel that a lot of people have about their jobs, the way you can go from office hero to office zero in a few seconds. How much do you feel John's personality is shaped by the job he has, and although I know this might cover stuff we looked at already, how closely do your attitudes about his office mirror your own?

OLLMANN: The character John is very much what I once was myself, investing a lot of time and energy to their job, often to the detriment of their personal life. My last job as art director at a yoga magazine -- and, yes, the exposé book, Help, I'm being Held Prisoner in a Yoga Factory is coming soon -- nearly killed me with the investment of time and energy and a need to put more in than anyone else nearly finished me. It ended in heartbreak when they fired all the men at the magazine. It changed the way I see work, again coinciding exactly with turning forty. When my boss at my present art production job asked me if I wanted to take on more responsibility, I was like, I kinda would rather be a farmer or something than have more responsibility at work. So I'm the farmer of the office which I find is a lot healthier all around.

SPURGEON: I liked Peter Bagge's quote on the back of the book. For whatever strange and unfair reason Bagge's maybe not as immediate a figure in comics as he might have been 15-20 years ago. What do you appreciate about his work? Has it informed your own? It seems you have similar sensibilities.

OLLMANN: Peter Bagge is a giant, really. I used to copy his gag comics back when I was a kid in high school to amuse my cohorts. Those early Neat Stuff books were terribly funny. But it was more interesting to watch Hate and how the Buddy Bradley character and all those stories gradually grew so much more complex, in the earlier, throwaway stuff, you could see that he was capable of bigger things. His character designs are so strong and unique and he's a fantastic letterer, really, an all-around craftsman. That recent Vertigo book he did, Other Lives, was great. I would hope his stuff isn't passing under any radar or anything.

SPURGEON: He makes note of your adherence to the nine-panel grid. What is it that appeals to you about that particular page construction; what works about it for you?

OLLMANN: The nine-panel thing just seems natural to me. I see the panels as a movie screen or an TV screen. No one changes the size or shape of a movie screen in the middle of a movie, right? That's kind of how I see it with my work, I just pan and scan, close-up and longshot, within that framework. I like watching other people's experiments in design; it just never occurs to me to do that. It also is a technical necessity, as that nine-panel grid gives me tall, narrow panels that better accommodate my voluminous narrations.

SPURGEON: Is there any chance we might see a longer color piece from you in the future? I like the watercolor look of the cover.

OLLMANN: It's weird working in color as I've only done black and white for so long. I'd be up for it, I suppose. I really love gray-scale ink wash; that's what I'd like to do next. As far as color goes, that Brecht Evens D&Q book, The Wrong Place, is some of the finest color work I've seen in years, both in terms of color palettes and execution. Also, Alex Fellows who did that book Canvas is doing an on-line color piece that is really beautiful.

SPURGEON: Having your first big book out would seem to me a natural time for reflection as to your comics output generally. Are you happy with the way things are right now comics career-wise? Are you devoted to doing more works of a similar length and ambition?

OLLMANN: Well, I have then next three projects written and ready to draw. I just need more time. Since I turned 40 I really feel like a Robert Johnson song and death's spidery fingers are trying to get me before I finish stuff, so it drives me to work a lot harder. I'm happy where I am mostly. Being published by D&Q is just incredible, really. I feel so lucky to be published by them and to finally have french flaps.

I've had a strange career where I spent about ten years devoted to two different newspaper strip projects, a weekly and a monthly, five years of each, and they were almost my sole output during that time. I wish now that I had been making comic books instead at that time. It feels like a lot of wasted time in a way. Though, delivering the strips to the newspaper, walking through the offices, high-fiving reporters and yelling sarcastic remarks always made me feel like I was in an episode of Lou Grant or something, you know, so it was a good experience, too, that I'm lucky to have had as the newspaper comic slowly dies. Plus, the discipline of meeting deadlines stays with me even when I don't have deadlines.

I guess I see myself doing the same kind of work I'm doing now, hopefully improving rather than worsening. I am experimenting a little as one of the scripts I'm finishing is a biography of the travel writer/alcoholic/cannibal/S&M guy, William Seabrook. That's been several years of research, thousands of dollars in out-of-print books and traveling to different archives, then settling down to sort it all out and make a narrative that doesn't read like old Classic Comics. I'm actually reading Tintin with my son lately and toying with the idea of using a 12-panel grid for the Seabrook book, so I ain't dead yet!

*****

* Mid-life, Joe Ollmann, Drawn And Quarterly, softcover, 184 pages, 9781770460287, 2011, $19.95

*****
 
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