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Birdseye Bristoe
posted July 16, 2012

imageCreator: Dan Zettwoch
Publishing Information: Drawn and Quarterly, hardcover, 64 pages, June 2012, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 1770460667 (ISBN10), 9781770460669 (ISBN13)

I'm about as big a fan of the cartoonist Dan Zettwoch as there is, to the point that I've been worried about the general direction of the entire comics world because Zettwoch doesn't have a bigger place in it. For a time I wondered if we'd get a significant Dan Zettwoch effort intended for a wider audience -- well, the wider comics audience, anyway -- in the same way I wondered after Dave Cooper pre-Weasel. I think Zettwoch has a sophisticated visual sensibility and unique feel for pacing that makes him stand apart from every other maker of comics out there. He also seems ruthlessly smart to me, and tied into an anachronistic and even wholly necessary way of seeing the world from the ground-level, an appreciation for events and moments about which no other cartoonist could give a rip. The news that he had a book coming out from Drawn & Quarterly made me feel fantastic, like the world was a bit more friendly just for having this happened. I cleared my schedule -- such as it is -- the afternoon it arrived at the studio, and I rarely do that for any cartoonist anymore.

It's strange, then, that I don't like Birdseye Bristoe as much as I hoped I might. It could be that I had inflated expectations nothing could have matched. That previous paragraph certainly reads like that may have been the case. Frankly, I'm not sure why I found the experience a bit uneasy. The comics themselves are great. Birdseye Bristoe tells (or maybe just lets unfold) the story of two teenagers' visit to their grand-uncle's uniquely American slice of nowhere one summer just as a massive cell phone tower is being constructed there. The narrative bounces back and forth between various quotidian activities enjoyed by the trio and the nudging effect that the gentle intrusion of this specific project has on them and the others in the area. This is underlined in part by the older gentleman's use of creative, handmade devices that provide contrast in scale, functionality and charm to the ugliness of the towers. I got lost in the comic, and read it twice.

Stil, the story didn't quite cohere as a greater whole, at least not for me or at least not yet. Whether this was a result of Zettwoch's supremely light touch when it comes to pushing certain themes or ideas or if it's just that the comic was in general undercooked, I can't tell. My main feeling walking away form Birdseye Bristoe was that the format -- a hardcover, a fancy hardcover, the first fancy hardcover of Dan Zettwoch's career, and so on -- overwhelmed the story being told. This is in sharp contrast to the Kevin Huizenga book Gloriana collected in hardcover which seems to scramble to every corner of such a presentation, settle in and sigh. By not feeling all the way at home in a bookstore-ready, graphic novel reality, Zettwoch's book remains true to his appealing lead characters. It's the rest of us that are the cell phone users. There's something appropriate to that.