Form of a Question original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Andrew J. Rostan
Pencils/Cover artist: Kate Kasenow
Inks: Jenna Ayoub & Ilaria Catalani
Colors: Laura Langston
Letters: Deron Bennett
Editors: Sierra Hahn & Rebecca Taylor
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Archaia imprint
Price:$17.99 US/$22.99 CAN/13.50 UK
I’d never even heard tell of this graphic novel before it literally turned up on my doorstep, but as soon as I saw the review copy of this hardcover book, I was immediately taken with it. Who doesn’t love Jeopardy!? Andrew Rostan, a real-life champion from the show more than a decade ago, has crafted a compelling autobio comic here, framing his own development and psyche around his obsession with the game show. It’s certainly a good graphic novel, and it had the potential to be a great one. I found the stream-of-consciousness approach to the plotting and a vague, amorphous quality in Kate Kasenow’s artwork combined to make the book a little inaccessible at times, and there’s a suggestion about how and why Rostan’s tenure on the quiz show ended that I found disappointing and irksome. But overall, Form of a Question is an unconventional, engaging and challenging bit of storytelling that takes us into the mind of someone associated with an iconic bit of Americana, delving into the awkward, confused soul of someone who discovers that fulfilling a lifelong dream wasn’t the path to contentment he’d expected.
As a child, Andrew Rostan loved watching Jeopardy! with his grandfather. It spoke to him, and he took to the trivia given his love of reading. He dreamed of competing on the show, and when it started offering online qualifying tests, it opened the door to his dream coming true. Rostan’s mind, connecting the minutae of history and pop culture to important events and people in his life, allowed him to excel on the show, but throughout his life, he found it also imposed barriers, keeping him from connecting from the people around him.
There’s a loose quality to artist Kate Kasenow’s figures, but that allows her characters to be more relatable; the somewhat undefined aspect to the characters makes it easier for the audience to see itself in them. Kasenow’s airy style suits the introspective tone of Rostan’s plot quite well, the use of muted colors to identify and isolate key players in the drama is an interesting and effective storytelling device here. I found Kasenow’s designs for the women in the story to be far too similar, though. If it weren’t for those color cues, it would have been difficult to determine what was going on at times. Of course, the only character that the reader is given a clear sense of is Rostan, and that’s true not only with the writing, but the art as well. The creators don’t seem to invest in developing a clearer sense of self for the secondary characters. Some of the scene transitions were confusing as well, but I see that more of as result of Rostan’s purposefully flowing and achronological approach to the plotting than a shortcoming of the artwork.
Despite his introverted nature, there’s a clear sense of ambition emanating from Rostan as a character here. His obsession with Jeopardy! ends up driving him, and there’s something admirable about his success in that pursuit. But the way in which I connected most with his character was in his depiction of his interactions with women, with his inability to take risks when it came to romance. While in many aspects of my life, I’ve conveyed confidence, I froze when it came to women. My self-esteem didn’t allow me to conceive of women finding me fun or attractive, but there was also fear. Rostan’s trepidation in his early adulthood really spoke to me in that regard.
Rostan subtly suggests that when he eventually lost on Jeopardy!, it wasn’t the result of distraction, fatigue or even happenstance of a lack of familiarity with the categories in that particular episode of the show. Instead, he nudges the audience in the direction of believing he may have made a choice. It’s not stated outright, so this might not be the case, but if so, I found it incredibly frustrating. I don’t want to go into greater detail so as to avoid spoilers, and I acknowledge that given the autobiographical nature of the book, the suspected plot development isn’t a choice Rostan is making as a writer, but rather a move to recount what happened in his life. But it served as a moment at which I stopped rooting for the character to succeed in his journey and at which I found him off-putting. Fortunately, it’s a brief and fleeting moment that luckily didn’t color the entire story.
While the story ultimately takes the writer/protagonist to a place in his live where he achieves some sense of contentment and satisfaction, the overall tone of the book is one of melancholy. While it’s easy to relate to Rostan in many respects, he’s depicted as being so adrift in his own life, so passive, that it’s rather depressing. That’s clearly the point of the journey, so it’s effective in that regard. But while we sympathize and maybe even empathize with the central figure, that can cross over into pity for and even frustration with him. This bit of autobiographical introspection doesn’t deliver the sort of epiphany and triumphant catharsis one typically expects from this sort of story. On one hand, it’s good that it plays against conventions, but on the other, the reader might feel short-changed. I had a lot of mixed feelings about Form of a Question once I reached the end, but it made me think about Rostan’s psyche and storytelling a fair bit. It definitely evoked an emotional reaction — actually, more than one — and in the end, that says something positive about the book. 7/10