By Corinne Mucha
96 pages, black and white
Published by Maidenhousefly Comics
There are times when, while reading comics, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. When reviewing Papercutter #8 last month, I’d commented on how much I enjoyed Corinne Mucha’s story "Growing Up Haunted," and I remember thinking that I wanted to see some more comics from Mucha. Well, in what could only be termed perfect timing, I have in front of me Mucha’s Xeric Grant funded My Alaskan Summer, and I for one and more thankful than ever for the Xeric Grant’s helping comic creators get their creations out there.
After graduating college, Corinne Mucha and her boyfriend Sam headed to Soldotna, Alaska, a small town (population: 4087) on the Kenai Peninsula. There, the two of them worked for Mucha’s aunt and uncle’s bed and breakfast, cleaning rooms and performing whatever chores needed to be done. And when they weren’t working, they got to experience Alaska and all of its wonders—which were much greater than they may have originally perceived.
From the very start, there’s a real charm evident in My Alaska Summer that Mucha keeps going through the entire book. While My Alaskan Summer might be constructed as a series of vignettes, Mucha’s thought very carefully about how to have one flow into the next, and so on. The book opens with Mucha presenting herself at the expert on all things Alaska to her friends, only for the next stories placing Mucha in situations where people feed her incorrect information on the state that she finds herself believing (the state bird being the mosquitoes, that clouds of the bug are so thick you can’t see where you’re going, and that people are vanishing left and right and it’s probably because of wild animal attacks). It’s that contrast of the all-knowing front she puts on for her friends, only to be duped by it just a page or two later, that makes me instantly like My Alaskan Summer.
She’s got a very self-depreciating style in her writing that, instead of coming across as annoying or tiresome, is really entertaining. Her noting that after predicting she’d be walking everywhere and become super-buff, that clearly she would fail as a psychic, is the sort of moment that makes you crack a smile almost instantly. I think it’s in no small part because it’s part of a greater whole, letting Mucha use that comment to then explain what the town of Soldotna is really like. Part personal diary, part travelogue, part guide book, My Alaskan Summer succeeds on all three levels. Stories about Sam’s pet peeves (not being able to find the New York Times, the delays in receiving Netflix discs), for instance, not only tell us about him as a person, but also about how things are different in Alaska and how the system works there, be it journalism or mail service. It’s a really smart narrative, and there’s a lot to really love about it.
Mucha’s art in My Alaskan Summer might be able to dismiss at a glance—it looks very simple and sketchy if you don’t pay much attention to it—but there’s actually quite a lot to the finished product. From a graveyard overrun by wildflowers, to the pattern on a couch, to the northern lights bursting into the skies, there’s an amazing amount of detail put into each drawing. The patterning and meshing of lines gives the art a strong texture, one that is much more rich than you’d think. I also love her page layouts; while many rely on a typical paneled grid, others are much more freeform, images slapped onto a white space that still guide your eye correctly from one to the next. Add in a touch of whimsy in so many of the drawings, like Sam’s ideal "continuous cycle" of DVDs arriving and getting sent back out, or panels of the sun and moon chatting to each other, and the end result is sweet and appealing.
A good travelogue is worth its weight in gold, and I must say that My Alaskan Summer is a bargain and a half. I really felt at the end of the book like I’d been with Mucha and Sam to Alaska, and it makes me excited about the idea of going there myself at some point in time. Until then, though, I take comfort in knowing that I can experience it over and over again by pulling My Alaskan Summer back off the bookshelf. After appearing in mini-comics and anthologies, My Alaskan Summer shows that Mucha was more than ready to take the leap to a full graphic novel, and I look forward to seeing what she has in store next. She’s definitely a talent to watch.