There is something comforting in James Sturm’s spare, clean illustrations in “Off Season.” Perhaps the comfort comes from his choice to show a dissolving family as dogs and puppies; as bleak as things get, Mark, who narrates, can turn his head a certain way and suddenly look a bit like an early iteration of Snoopy, now grown up and taking on responsibilities. Sturm’s form is also familiar: one or two vertical panels per page, organized in chapters of varying lengths, each with a title panel. As in classic episodic comics, such as “Gasoline Alley,” the panels seem to offer glimpses through window panes onto a family’s life. Here, at the outset, we learn that things are not well in Sturm’s land. You know it is going to be a bumpy ride from the first panel’s ironic use of Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan, “Stronger Together.”
Mark reveals that his marriage dissolved at around the same time that Clinton received the Democratic nomination. He and his wife, Lisa, had been Bernie Sanders supporters; one of the tenderest moments between them comes when they peer into her phone to watch a bird landing on Sanders’ podium, as their daughter, Suzie, begs at their side, “Let me see the bird!!” Soon, this family — like so many — divides over election results. Striking at the center of this marriage is a still-unresolved political argument about Sanders supporters who refused to vote for Clinton in the general election. “Not that I’d vote for Trump but at least he’s his own man,” the narrator muses darkly, before slipping into an indiscriminate rage that will land on everything from a lost cellphone to a work project.
As the title suggests, there might be hope for this estranged couple if they can use this time to train for the next season. For a time, it seems they might not make it that far: He might be arrested; she might demand full custody. His narration is unreliable, for we learn of an outrageous action from other characters before he acknowledges it. In the end, nothing fully resolves, and we are left to wonder if they — and by extension, their country — will find their way back onto the same team for opening day.