Drawing from Life #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist/Letters: Jim Valentino
Editor: Kristen Simon
Publisher: Image Comics/Shadowline imprint
Price: $3.50 US/$4.15 CAN
I’m a fan of the slice-of-life, autobiographical comic, and I’m thrilled that Image Comics has provided my favorite title in the genre — True Story, Swear to God — with a much brighter spotlight in the industry. I wonder if Image’s decision to publish Tom Beland’s true-romance comic sparked Image founder Jim Valentino’s decision to put together this anthology of real-life experiences. In any way, Valentino is no stranger to the genre, having presented great work in A Touch of Silver several years ago. Well, Drawing from Life (an overly cute but effective title) is no Touch of Silver. The book lacks structure. There’s no common theme running through the various short stories, and the subject matter and tones of the segments are wildly diverse… random, really. Nevertheless, it’s fun to get a glimpse inside someone’s life, and there’s definitely an honest and genuine quality to the storytelling. I also enjoy the chance to get a look at Valentino’s cartooning (as opposed to the more conventional style one often sees in comics today). Those charms aren’t enough to really hold the audience’s attention, though. This first issue is an interesting experiment but not really a successful one.
Kid is a cartoonist, a husband and a father, and in his youth, he was something of a wild child. Both with his children and with his readers, he shares stories from throughout his life — as a struggling cartoonist, an impulsive teen and a young adult just finding his place in the world. More than that, though, he shares his stories about the weird things that he’s seen, the goofy mistakes he’s made and the colorful characters he’s met along the way.
Comics readers are perhaps most familiar with Valentino’s work on such 1990s super-hero titles as Shadowhawk and Guardians of the Galaxy. His style from those endeavors is recognizable here, but he’s adopted a simpler, more exaggerated approach to cartooning that is better suited to the everyday, comedic moments he’s trying to bring to life. I like the clean lines he uses to illustrated the backdrops or objects in the story (such as a car or elephant… yes, elephant); the more cartoony look is limited to the characters themselves. One element that struck me as odd is that Valentino’s self-caricature never ages, but we see him as a doped-up teen and as a father (as well as times in between).
Furthermore, it’s apparent that some of these stories have been lying around for a while. That in and of itself isn’t a problem, but the clearly different styles and quality of linework from story to story was distracting. The most effective and impressive piece of art associated with this comic book is the cover image. Sure, the metaphor is painfully obvious (the artist finds beauty in a train wreck), but the disparate images of twisted metal and soft, organic lines of the floral arrangement make for an eye-catching contrast. Valentino also makes great use of white space on the cover, even going so far as to tone down a minor text element from early promotional images of the book as it appears on the final cover (the earlier version is depicted at the top of this review).
One can certainly give credit to the creator for being honest. He mocks himself more than anyone else, a standard approach in slice-of-life humor storytelling. He admits to insecurities, incompetence and illegal activities from various periods in his life. Longtime comics enthusiasts and industry professionals/monitors might also enjoy the behind-the-scenes looks Valentino provides of the craft and business of the medium. Something that’s lacking is a theme to connect these segments. Yes, they all share a central character, but the tones of the pieces are from extreme ends of autobiographical spectrum. We open with a touching tale of a panicking parent, and later, we’re immersed in memories of undirected, youthful rebellion.
The biggest problem with this short anthology of real-life silliness is the fact that there are no stories. There are anecdotes and oddities, but a story requires some kind of conflict, some kind of climax, some kind of resolution. There’s not as much storytelling going on here as there should be; Valentino just more or less conveys information. It seems as though these are some of these episodes from his life represent some of the writer’s favorite ice-breakers or anecdotes, and that they’ve lost something in the translation from the oral to the illustrated. Some of the more unusual, key moments are non-sequiturs, and those moments — the first sign of something other than the mundane — serve as both beginnings and endings of the non-stories. 4/10