NOW Toronto Calls Mid-Life "Original"

“Mid-Life: Dear John” / NOW Toronto / David Silverberg / April 7, 2011

Self-loathing figures prominently in many of Joe Ollmann's comics and graphic novels, and Mid-Life is no exception. But don't think it's all morose thought bubbles on the pain of turning 40. Instead, a hopeful charm lives inside these 172 pages.

John is a graphic designer at a magazine, married to a woman he loves and raising a baby son after rearing children from a past marriage. He soon realizes parenthood at 40 is a struggle. When he and his wife start arguing about things like who's doing the childcare at 4 am, John begins to look elsewhere for entertainment.

Enter Sherry Smalls, whose story is told between chapters about John. She's an attractive children's entertainer hoping for something more out of life than monkey-suit sidekicks and preadolescent fan mail. Much like John, she aspires to a more nourishing life, and longs for love.

John's self-pity dissipates when he comes across Sherry's press kit, at which point the book's pace picks up. He sweats over meeting her for an "interview" in New York City, finally mustering enough courage to make a drastic decision, one that could forever fracture his marriage.

Ollmann's dialogue is snappy, and he's mastered the nine-panel form. The routine structure doesn't allow for experimentation, so the originality comes through in the characters. And the reader can't help but sympathize with John, who's just trying to make sense of a life complicated by a mid-life crisis.

The art deserves kudos for its precision and expression. A facial tic here, a sudden frown there and you're in the skin of these characters, whom you definitely want to visit again.

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