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Skyscrapers of the Midwest
posted April 18, 2008


Creator: Josh Cotter
Publishing Information: AdHouse Books, hardcover, 288 pages, May 2008, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 9780977030477 (ISBN13)

imageI've written in the past on my admiration for Josh Cotter's debut series Skyscrapers of the Midwest, now collected by AdHouse into a hardcover collection. It's an appealing compilation. Cotter may still be a bit more comfortable as an illustrator than he is as a comics artist, and having this work in one place throws a lot of attention to his establishing scene work and one-page chapter headers. What you may lose in terms of the series' appealing raggedness, the feeling it communicated that the author had figuratively vomited this material onto the page out of a compulsion more than design. You'll get more back in terms of the cumulative effect and it's easier to track minor degrees of difference in the main boy characters.

Cotter's story about how fantasy can both ameliorate and add to the misery of adolescence proves to be poignant because the fantasies he shows are such hilariously fundamental wish-fulfillments of longing and self-value that it breaks your heart to think anyone thinks that way. Skyscrapers is at its best during those moments, and in some of the visual metaphors it drags back into the mainstream of the narrative such as the insect projection by which he shows a migraine headache. The emotional interaction between the two children feels well-observed, particularly when the emotional stakes are ratcheted up by one or the other for practically no reason. Some of the side stories that sidle up to the main family for a time don't quite come across in either the original or collected reading, but with a first book the ambition of showing more of an entire community seems completely understandable. Ambitious in terms of its visual vocabulary and its thematic reach, Skyscrapers isn't a perfect book but one of those works that works in the best tradition of art comics in America: sloppy at times, unformed at others, emotionally devastating throughout.