AutobioGraphix

Edited by Diana Schutz
104 pages, black and white
Published by Dark Horse

I’ve never understood why so many comics focus on autobiographies. Maybe it’s the old adage to write what you know, and what better thing to know than your own life? The problem with that, of course, is that most people’s lives really aren’t that interesting. Editor Diana Schutz probably had that in mind when she put together the anthology AutobioGraphix, then, by publishing short stories by a number of comics creators. Because while everyone’s lives may not be that interesting, almost everyone must have at least an amusing short story from their life.

If I had to pick two stand-out stories in the volume, they’d probably be Sergio Aragones’s “The Time I Met Richard Nixon” and Eddie Campbell’s “I Have Lost My Sense of Humour”, and there aren’t two more dissimilar stories in the book. Aragones’s story of stopping by the Mad Magazine offices only to discover Richard Nixon is there signing copies of his own autobiography is a whimsical little piece, with the worldly Aragones being struck dumb by the presence of the former president. It’s fun to see Aragones’s squiggly little art bring Nixon to life, and Aragones does a great job of bringing across his awe and amazement at this chance encounter. You really can’t find a sweeter story in the book than this, and it’s hard to imagine that this wouldn’t bring a smile to anyone’s face.

On the flipside, though, Campbell’s four-page story is a descent into depression and anger. Campbell’s story of his pulling back from publishing and frustration with comics is disturbing to read in how he makes such a clean break from what was such a major part of his life. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen that happen to friends of ours, who suddenly show a frustration with part of their lives and turn away from it entirely; Campbell does an amazing job of showing how his thought process worked and how he methodically dismantled that part of his life. Or maybe it’s because “I Have Lost My Sense of Humour” just proves that Campbell is still an amazingly talented creator, and the idea of losing him from comics entirely is a startling one.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other good stories in AutobioGraphix, of course. Metaphrog’s “A Traveller’s Tale” does a better job of getting across the emotions of traveling in just six pages than other entire books have done. The feelings of exhaustion and wonder are both created very sharply here, as with the desire to return home. Will Eisner’s “The Day I Became a Professional” swiftly gets to the point, showing how rejection is a part of everyone’s lives, even someone as talented as one of the grandfathers of comics, expertly illustrated in beautiful ink washes. Jason Lutes’s “Rules to Live By” is as much an experience of moving to another side of the world as it reminds us why the mechanics of comics work, if that’s possible. Matt Wagner’s “Comic Book Chef” is certainly not what one would expect, as Wagner uses his space available to explain to readers how to create chicken parmigiana while showing off his love of cooking.

Only a couple of stories seem like more misses than hits. Linda Medley’s “Recess!” overstays its welcome just a bit too long, stretching an idyllic walk with a friend to a point where it’s difficult to care about much more than Medley’s carefully rendered inks and how her figures sway across the page. Likewise, Richard Doutt’s story of “The Tree” seems like a little too clichéd and predictable to work up much interest for the reader, even if it is a true story. Fortunately, Farel Dalrymple’s gorgeous art is able to keep the reader around and interested in some part of the piece.

Schutz’s annual anthologies are improving more and more each year, and AutobioGraphix is easily the strongest offering to date. You’re definitely getting a lot of bang for your buck, and that’s without even bringing up other good stories by creators like Paul Chadwick, Stan Sakai, and Bill Morrison. Schutz certainly shows that she knows what does and does not make people’s lives interesting.

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