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Coffee and Donuts
posted December 21, 2006
Top Shelf, softcover trade, 112 pages, February 2006, $10
There's a lot to like about Top Shelf's move into illustration-style comics paperbacks. It's familiar territory, having worked with Craig Thompson for as long as they have, and I think there's an appetite for books that build on that variation on basic comics language: very plaintive, direct, with attractive and thick lines and cute characters. I also think it's perfectly suited for trade paperbacks under a certain price and for the kind of object that benefit their ability to hand sell. It should be a fruitful area for them for years to come.
I also like a lot of what Max Estes does. His figures are over-animated in the manner of some of Greg Cook's early mini-comics, although he lacks both Cook's range and the bravura displays of narrative breakouts. Estes' story here is quite restrained: two friends living in a dumpster (really; they live in the sucker) screw up a bank job and are pressured by the crooks staking out the place whose thunder they stole to act as fall guys. Their chance for rescue come from someone who sees past their present situation and into their hearts, someone who reaches out to their better nature.
This is a really young cartoonist's book, though. Estes never quite breaks out of his restrained panel to panel work, and the story never twists or turns in a way that might have added interest to the linear narrative. This would have be the most luscious artwork to float such a straight-forward story, and Estes just isn't there yet. There's no shame in this -- I like this work better than the last one I believe I saw from the same artist, and we're in a publishing moment when a lot of books are working their way to the surface that are more preview than reward. This is a definitely a book for those reader immersed in this new sub-genre, or those that want to meet their artists somewhere near the beginning.