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The Squirrel Mother Stories
posted February 24, 2006


Creator: Megan Kelso
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics Books, 152 pages, book format, July 2006, $16.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781560977469 (ISBN-13); 1560977469 (ISBN-10)

I recently found out that despite the arrivals of advance copies, Megan Kelso's collection of short pieces The Squirrel Mother Stories won't go on sale until July officially and June in comic shops and by direct order. It's too bad. In a week that features the concluding chapter and opening salvo in each big North American company's latest sprawling, chaotic superhero adventures, Kelso's work would seem like a gift from heaven. In a series of deceptively simple short stories, Kelso captures a single moment or two -- a scene, a moment of reverie -- far removed from the battlefields and blasted out neighborhoods of the various Infinite War Metaphor boy's adventure comics.

What makes Kelso a special talent is not that she tells such stories, or what thematic ground she covers; it's what happens to the narratives as she develops them. She doesn't simply make a blunt point and then abruptly end the telling mid-reveal, the way many comics shorts conclude. Instead, Kelso assiduously unpacks each scene moment by well-observed moment -- a panel about going to a house on Halloween and being puzzled that a neighbor has an elevator in their home in worth the entire career of some cartoonists -- until in many cases, somewhere near the end, something falls away and unfolds and you're staring at something that's bloomed in your hand that looks just enough different than what you expected you're often flabbergasted. Did you just read a short about an awkward little girl or about a mother lost in rumination? An amusing story about an eccentric aunt or a melancholy piece about how we tell stories to benefit ourselves? The tale of a young woman in or out of control? Kelso's stories offer thematic depth in a form that places little value on theme beyond how it can help the author figure out the three-act movie script adaptation.

Kelso's art ranges from the unexceptional to the nearly elegant, the measuring stick being the expressiveness of her figure-drawing and how she depicts give and take physicality as her skill increases. Like in many of the attractive mini-comics from which some of this work is drawn, Kelso can do wonders with a limited palette, even a single color like in "Split Rock, Montana." Although short-story comics collection are hardly a new thing, The Squirrel Mother Stories is the closest in feel to a prose book of that type since Michael Dougan stopped working. If it's not going to be out until summer, that's okay: it can be carried with you to the beach and to the park, it's soothing colors and sharp character studies a hint of lemonade and a touch of regret under an insistent, unforgiving sun.