Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Winter Blues

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 29th, 2009

Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales
Writer/artist/cover artist: J.T. Yost
Publisher: Birdcage Bottom Books
Price: $6.95 US

Self-published comics are often one of the richest sources of different ideas and unique storytelling in the comic-book industry. Whereas corporate comics are inextricably mired in maintaining the status quo, creators who are answerable only to themselves have the freedom to do, say or depict anything they want. Disappointing forays into self-publishing can be those that don’t avail themselves of that freedom or those whose creators lack the skills to match their passion for the medium. This anthology from writer/artist J.T. Yost is no disappointment. It’s one of those examples of the new and the different and the unique. The main story, from which the book derives its title, is a wonderfully touching and melancholy study of a difficult and awkward phase of life. That story — a new work from the creator — is honest and down to earth. The rest of the material in this anthology was previously published, but chances are you’re like me and are unfamiliar with all of the stories. While “Old Man Winter” is relatable and straightforward, Yost’s approach in the other stories is more unconventional and experimental in tone. Yost, in this Xeric award-supported book, demonstrates a diversity of style, subject matter and emotion that proves that he’s a well-rounded and skilled storyteller.

A withered, tired old man picks himself up every day, trudges out onto the street and greets the world. His routine brings him in touch with some of the same faces every day. He’s met by bemusement, friendliness and pity wherever he goes. Those whose lives he barely manages to penetrate know little about it, leaving them to speculate about him or to mock his mannerisms. Little do they know that the old man is about to reach a turning point, as his daughter prepares him to move from his apartment to a new home. Unfortunately, no one seems to have asked him if he wanted to leave.

Old Man Winter panelYost boasts a simpler, indy style that won’t appeal to those who think all comic-book art ought to be rendered in a traditional super-hero style. Yost’s twisted, cartoony character designs clearly owe some of their inspiration to the underground comics movement of the 1960s and ’70s. For the main story, Yost initially employs large panels and splash pages. The initial impression is that not much is being said with this story. But as the story progresses, the artist employs more panels per page. He narrows our field of view for each panel as he narrows his focus and explores his protagonist more closely.

“Old Man Winter” is ultimately about an imperative in human existence: closeness with others. Obviously, the season in the story title is a reference to the late time in life in which the main character finds himself, and he does so alone. He desperately needs to connect with someone, leading to his awkward encounters with people on the street or clerks in the local store. The old man is connected in part, but to memories and mementos of a life that’s already been lived. While there are a couple of cute moments, the story is rather sad overall, though the finality of the ending is both heart-breaking yet comforting.

Roadtrip panelI’m a card-carrying carnivore, so I don’t agree with the anti-meat message of “Roadtrip.” However, it’s easy to see that this short, silent story is about more than encouraging a vegetarian lifestyle. It’s about society’s impatience, its penchant for cutting corners and choosing the fast way to do things rather than the proper way, the ethical way. To convey his message, Yost contrasts the innocence of a child discovering new corners of the world with the brutality of animals bred for and led to the slaughter. The exaggeration Yost uses in his art to convey the brutality of the meat machine is successfully disturbing despite the cartoony elements in the art.

“Logging Sanjay” is a slice-of-life story from Yost’s own experiences, and consequently, it’s not nearly as grave or activist in tone as the other material in the book. It therefore comes off as much more honest and even more relatable as the other stories. I love the notion that the creator opts to share a secret he’d never revealed before in print. His approach to the art is also slightly different for this story; the figures are less exaggerated in tone, obviously because they are more real to Yost than the fictional ones in other segments. 8/10

Note: For more information, visit the the creator’s website or the Birdcage Bottom Books website.

One Response to “Winter Blues”

  1. J.T. Yost Says:

    Don, thank you so much for the meticulous & careful review of my book. It’s being distributed by Diamond, so it should be available at comic book stores nationwide in August (asking your local comic book shop to carry it will help ensure it’s available, everyone!). Keep up the great work…