Yearbook Stories: 1976-1978
by Chris Staros
Top Shelf Comix
It’s funny, just now I started thinking about how the minicomic is the perfect format for little parables/reveries like these–a blog post this personal I’d avoid like the plague, and I’m afraid as a magazine article or a chapter in a book I’d dismiss it as too “This American Life” and move on to the next page. A teen novel, now wait a second, that one might actually work, Staros’ stories do seem eminently relatable beyond any sort of generation gap. A full-length graphic novel, nah, that would unnecessarily decompress and pad out Staros’ economical, uncluttered, but captivatingly honest prose. It’s a wonder to see how each artist fleshes out Staros’ narratives–delivered as recollections/monologues for the most part, with limited dialogue–and it just makes these stories jump out and grab you by the throat–heartbreakingly or laughably real instead of sitting static on the page.
Staros weaves two miniature tales, small vignettes, they’re melancholic, self-effacing but ultimately hopeful tales of awkward youth. Cleverly bound in a faux yearbook cover (it’s the little touches), interspersed with actual photos of Staros in his youth and handily illustrated by Bo Hampton and Rich Tommaso, American Splendor style, with the artist free to interpret and flesh out Staros’ words and bring his characters to rendered life. The first, “The Willful Death of a Stereotype” is a poignant look at a gawky young Staros’ attempt to win his class presidency against a “popular kid,” with a truly shocking twist ending, with understated and delightful storybook style art (which for some reason reminds me of Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace from Hampton). The second, “The Worst Gig I Ever Had” is an uproarious story of the things a young garage band has to do to get gigs. Tommaso’s angular, American gothic/grotesque grossout artwork fits the tale perfectly, giving it sharp edges and a crude cartoonishness reminiscent of the likes of Angry Youth Comics or Beavis and Butthead, but with a heart of gold. An engrossing, quick, self-contained read. For a mere four smackers? Gold.
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