This week, Joshua Cotter's amazing mini-series from AdHouse Books, Skyscrapers of the Midwest, comes to a conclusion. I have thoroughly enjoyed the previous issues, but it was only when I was about mid way through this issue that it occurred to me, "This book might very well be my favorite comic book." That is how good this comic book is - Cotter does tremendous work here, and the Eisner Award he was nominated for last year's issue #3 will, if there is any justice, be duplicated next year for issue #4.
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) ...
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 this 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.
Later, we see the boy with his grandmother, as she tells him this lovely, ethereal tale...
Which he, of course, is basically ignoring, as children or wont to do. Which is quite heartrending, as is a lot of Cotter's stories in this comic (which, I presume, are autobiographical?) - so it is nice that Cotter intersperses humorous asides within the comic, like the letter column, which is written by a cowboy and with stuff like the younger brother explaining how he interpreted that Sunday's visit to Church...
As you can tell, 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?
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 ends his tale on a bittersweet moment between 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.
This is a spectacular comic book.
The sample pages are courtesy of Cotter's studio blog here, except for a couple which came from the aforementioned interview.