Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here's the archive of the moments posted so far!
Today we look at Joshua Cotter's Skyscrapers of the Midwest!
Skyscrapers of the Midwest is, according to Cotter (courtesy of this interview), "observations of childhood isolation and existence in the American Midwest. With giant robots."
The story follows two young boys (mostly the older brother, but the younger brother gets some attention, too) as they just live their normal lives in the late 1980s in the rural Midwest. They do not have an exceptionally hard life, but Cotter wrings all the pathos out of an otherwise ordinary existence that he possibly can.
The "giant robots" that Cotter refers to is the active imagination of both boys, who occasionally transform their normal day to day lives into tales of fantasy, like the little brother's pet dinosaur being attacked by evil beasts (which stands for the toy dinosaur being gnawed on by a dog).
The collection puts together the four original issues. Issues #2-4 had very interesting storytelling techniques.
In the second issue, part of the issue is told through the novel approach of using the standard "Sunday Funny Pages" as the storytelling device, with each different style of comic strip telling a different part of the family's life.
In the third issue, a school's yearbook is the framing device for the issue.
In fourth issue, Cotter uses the format of a late 80s Marvel comic book (complete with a separate indica) to tell the story of how the boy is emasculated by his secret crush in front of all her friends (the parody is DEAD on).
It's worth noting that the characters in the comic are not exactly human. I honestly don't know WHAT they're supposed to be, but that's not really the point, is it? In Maus II, Art Spiegelman highlighted the point that whatever you make these people, cats, dogs, mice, whatever, they're just masks - so does it matter what the people in Skyscrapers of the Midwest are? What matters is how Cotter draws them, and what Cotter does with them - and what he does with them is create a work of intermittent beauty and pain. Pretty much like real life, no?
Probably the best way to demonstrate Cotter's abilities is through a sample, and AdHouse Books quite smartly put up as a sample one of the most memorable parts of the book, where the young boy deals with a birthday present...
Pretty rough, huh?
Skyscrapers of the Midwest is filled with moments like that one - beautifully painful.
But just like real life, unless you had an incredibly difficult childhood, for all the pain and bad memories, there are bound to be some good ones in there, and Cotter highlights these as well, and even ends his tale on a bittersweet moment between the two brothers - it is clearly a matter of "savor this good moment now," because if the book continued, you just know the next page would be something totally brutal once again.
There's also a letter column where the letter answerer has some very amusing answers - that's a nice change of pace from the drama of the issues.
When my fiancée and I met Cotter at MoCCA, she mentioned how sad the scene was when the main character found a bunch of almost-dead kittens in the barn after their mother was hit by a car. He and his mother attempt to save the kittens, but they all die. So Cotter quite nicely drew her the following sketch...
Here is Josh's website (it appears to be down currently, but hopefully that won't be for long).
And here is AdHouse Books' page for Skyscrapers, where you can buy a copy (just $20!!!).