Writer/Artist: James Sturm
Publisher: Drawn + Quarterly
Release Date: February 5, 2019
You can understand James Sturm’s meditation on the 2016 election, told through the lens of one family, a lot better if you realize that it originally ran in real time, on Slate, as that whole horrorshow was unfolding. In other words: when everything still felt like a terrible dream and a lot of white people (yours truly very much included) were trying to grasp at an explanation that didn’t involve pretty much writing off all of us. At the time, Sturm’s empathetic portrayal of a construction worker who had loved Bernie but couldn’t quite vote for Hillary would have seemed more palatable, a way of trying to understand the blue-collar dudes whose masculinity was threatened due to their economic hardships. In the light of early 2019, following studies that showed economic anxiety was actually higher among Clinton voters than Trump voters and that the latter were far more focused on immigration issues, it’s a harder sell.
Sturm draws his characters with soft, Snoopy-type dog faces and human bodies, making them both automatically sympathy-generating and opaque. There’s a bit of the texture of watercolor paper remaining in the background ink washes, a different style than his much crisper The Golem’s Mighty Swing or the Adventures in Cartooning books. There’s something genuine and lovely in the way he puts down the contemporary suburban landscape on paper, rendering strip malls and power lines without judgment. And, yes, one does feel for his protagonist: screwed by capitalism (his boss is the kind of developer who’s busy squeezing out every bit of profit for himself, bouncing checks while he parties on the weekends) even more than by his own choices. As his kids pester each other in the back seat of the car and his bills pile up, the kind of stress he feels is palpable, almost shimmering off the page. If anything, the book is more about the bubbling rage our economic system produces than about a specific flare-up of it in November 2016, and it’s valuable in that way.
Off Season Interior Art by James Sturm