American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries of James Kochalka October 26, 1998 to December 31, 2003
James Kochalka. Top Shelf Productions, $29.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-891830-49-5
This massive collection of Kochalka's cartoon diaries covers five years of his life. Each day is represented by a cartoon capturing a single moment of the day. These moments range from a haircut to reflections on nature to funny exchanges with friends, with each moment getting just four panels. Kochalka has a facile, expressive line; his lush brushstrokes convey both emotional meaning and a real sense of place and season with minimal fuss. In fact, this is a minimal book packed with a tremendous amount of personal detail. As a cartoonist, Kochalka is a great reducer, conveying more in one or two panels than many cartoonists do in one or two pages. On top of that, he makes readers consider the simple pleasures of voyeurism--why do we want to read about his life? Why does he want to discuss it? It's the tone of these reality-television times, and, frankly, Kochalka is entertaining. Unlike some autobiographical comics, whether readers personally like the James Kochalka depicted here is almost irrelevant, because half of the fun is simply engaging with his level of detail and day-to-day tribulations. Some of these are trite, others flaky, and still more are funny or touching. But, as they say, that's life, and Kochalka does a solid job of capturing the roiling stream of everyday consciousness without straining our acceptance.
Reviewed on: 08/01/2004