Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Not Recommended: Tiny Life l(a

Writer Nick Jones sent me a copy of his self-published graphic novel Tiny Life: l(a, and I promised him that I'd review it here, if not at CBR. Well, there's just no way this book is professional enough to qualify for a CBR review, so I'll review it briefly right now.

In short, Tiny Life: l(a, which is -- according to Jones's introduction -- just the first book of a projected ten-book series, is a nearly total failure. As a concept, it's not without merits, and the core of the story seems to be about exploring the nature of identity when your dad turns out to be the Second Coming, but the art by Nicolas Colacitti and Nick Jones is abysmal, the storytelling is elliptical without being poetic, and the thematic concerns are so blatant that it's more like a series of diary entries than a narrative.

And, shockingly, embarrassingly, Jones has decided to use an incredibly difficult to decipher font to reveal some of the most central plot information, and he insists on building to a climax only to have information displayed in supposedly handwritten letters. I don't know the name of the font Jones uses for the "handwriting," but it completely ruins those sections of the story. And Jones decides to turn this book into an epistolary story the longer it goes on, forcing more and more letters and (thankfully, easier-to-read) journal pages on the reader. A single letter, revealing essential plot information, might have worked just fine in the context of this book, but the repeated use of the letters and journals turns the story into a parody of itself. I flipped each page wondering when another impossible to read letter might pop up and completely shut the story down.

This is clearly a very personal comic. Jones talks in his introduction about how long he's worked on this story, paring it down and then expanding it. Turning it into something much more than it was originally intended to be. But the finished product is fourth-rate undergrad nonsense, imbued with an ugly version of Chris Ware's sad loneliness, made explicit on the page with the constant narrative captions that tell us exactly how the stick-figured protagonist feels at every single moment.

The final scene is stronger than the rest of the book, though, generating a deeply disturbing creepiness that could propel readers into the promised volume 2. But, really, the deficiencies of the rest of the book will probably keep many readers from even finishing volume 1, never mind seeking out the eventual second volume.

I'm sure this project means a lot to Nick Jones, and maybe with a vastly superior artist and a compact and more subtle narrative, he could have made the underlying concept work. But as it stands now, it's not something I would recommend to anyone.

15 comments:

Kris Krause said...

Haha, wow, remind me to not to send you my first comic when it comes out later this year, Tim.

Kidding of course. I actually think that's really cool of you to review a comic of that scale, regardless of what you had to say about it. Keep the indy comics reviews coming!

mike phillips said...

What a jerk.

Timothy Callahan said...

Tiny Life is bad, but I just finished reading the worst graphic novel I've EVER read, and that review will be tempered only by the fact that I'm a little scared that the guy who wrote the comic might be insane.

So I guess that's an endorsement for Tiny Life: NOT written by a crazy person.

Greg said...

Is Mike Phillips calling YOU a jerk? I guess he is, but it's not like you trashed the guy's wife or fundamental belief system, just his comic. If you're going to put something in print, you should expect it to be bashed.

That being said, I liked this quite a bit more than you did. I agree with your point about the letter-writing, but I thought the narration, as florid as it could be, worked because of Jed's OCD, which led up to that great final scene, which at least you liked. I thought it was too verbose, but otherwise, it was pretty good. And in a world where Jason (that's his name, right - the guy who wrote I Killed Adolf Hitler?) can be considered an artistic genius, the art in this isn't all that bad.

Greg said...

Oh, and I'm totally waiting for the review of the worst graphic novel you've ever read. You must post it!

Timothy Callahan said...

I don't see how the art here is in the same league as Jason's. It's generic minicomic level art, with the added enhancement of overused photoshop textures.

Also, don't worry about what Mike Phillips says. He thinks Stephen King's "The Gunslinger" is a work of genius.

David Uzumeri said...

Reading this review made me cup my balls out of sympathy. You're usually so evenhanded that it's unsettling (and must be justified) to see you savage something like this.

Frank said...

During an MFA residency workshop, I made a few specific comments on how ridiculous this one guy's story was -- how it was riddled with cliche. The next day, when the workshopped writer was able to give his thoughts, he attacked me personally about my comments. I responded by telling him that if he is going to submit that story and expect me to devote a specific amount of time to it, then he will listen to every god damn word I had to say. I think you owed it to this writer to be honest and you were. It was obvious you gave the piece the respect of reading it closely. The more honest you are, the more people will respect your opinion. I thought the review was fair, even if I, too, covered my genitals in discomfort while reading it.

James said...

Comics Shouldn't Anthropomorphise?

Mike Phillips said...

Now both you and Greg are jerks.

Also, I wouldn't call THE GUNSLINGER genius, but I WOULD call the entire DARK TOWER cycle the best thing I've ever read.

Jerk.

Anonymous said...

Is Mike Phillips 12? If so, you probably should avoid hurting twelve year old comic artists.

Timothy Callahan said...

Mike Phillips is neither 12, nor a comic artist. Though he does run a comedy blog of great esteem. How's that going Mike?

Anonymous said...

ouch, mike. i thought you were twelve. now you're not even an artist?

Mike Phillips said...

I guess maybe someone should tell these guys that I'm joking, Tim.

I'm joking.

Oh, and my comedy blog has become funny for the wrong reasons.

Julian Darius said...

Yes, Mike Phillips is indeed having a laugh. You have to know his sense of humor.

The review itself is one of the best negative reviews I've read, which is to say that it clearly explains why the book's got problems.