It’s no secret — nor should it be! — that Seattle cartoonist Sarah Romano Diehl’s Crust was one of my favorite comics of last year, but in my attempt to “play catch-up” with some of the stuff I’ve received in recent weeks/months, I came to the realization that I never got around to reviewing the other books (all, to her credit, self-published) that I got from Ms. Diehl some time back, so allow me to correct that egregious (nay, downright unforgivable!) error right now —
All The Comforts Of Being Alive is a thick, bursting-at-the-seams travelogue mini-comic/’zine that expertly incorporates mixed media such as photographs, scrap-paper notes, etc. to tell the story of Diehl’s first road trip back to her Colorado college town in a decade. There’s more than a whiff of nostalgia to the proceedings here, but it’s all good : anybody who goes back home (or, in this case, back to their home-away-from-home) can completely and instantly recognize the cauldron of contradictory emotions that her smooth, minimalist illustration and utterly un-pretentious writing convey here with that special sort of apparent-effortlessness-that-really-requires-a-ton-of-effort. Smart, evocative, and never less than thoroughly absorbing, this is the sort of illustrated travel journal that, dare I say it, even the late, great Anthony Bourdain would probably be utterly charmed by — and at four measly dollars it definitely qualifies as a “must-buy.” So, ya know, buy it.
And while we’re on the subject of travel, Strange Paradise is yet another road trip comic, this one documenting Diehl’s trek through Arizona to attend a wedding. I fucking hate the desert with a passion, but damn if her keen observational eye doesn’t make places like Prescott, Sedona, Jerome, and especially the architectural wonder/”intentional community” of Arcosanti seem like absolutely fascinating places to visit — and probably even live. I may just have to go check out AZ after all one of these days, but until then, four dollars for this bigger-than-a-mini-comic is a solid bargain.
Switching gears, The Secret Life Of Plants is a gorgeous risograph-printed mini (for the record, Diehl is one of the absolute masters of the riso, and really understands how to use it to make her cartooning flat-out sing) that wordlessly (barring a dedication to, as you may have already guessed given the title, Stevie Wonder) expresses the nearly-magical worldview of all growing things. A stirring mixed palette of greens and yellows is used to convey how life “looks” from the perspective of plants, vines, and trees herein, and the page that shows how human beings “look” to our green friends is worth the $4.00 asking price alone. Visually and narratively (even though, again, there’s nary a word to be found) ambitious to a degree that goes well beyond the merely “impressive,” this is a comic not to be missed under any circumstances, for any reasons.
The Man Spreaders, unfortunately, proves that even the best cartoonists (and Diehl’s name definitely belongs among them) sometimes swing and miss. I can’t fault the quality of her art here in the least, and the oranges and browns that she utilizes are another subtle-yet-shining example of her riso mastery, but her initially-promising narrative — focused on the struggles of a young Old West widow and her children who are set upon by a gang of unpleasant and unruly (but, unfortunately, well-connected) new neighbors — takes a turn for the worse when oblique-to-the-point-of-inexplicable supernatural elements elbow their way into the scene in order to facilitate a confusing (yet, perhaps ironically, also dull and predictable) resolution. I give Diehl credit for trying something quite a bit outside of her “comfort zone” with this one, and the outlines of what she’s hoping to achieve with her story are clearly visible, but she comes up well short of her noble goals. And at ten bucks for a roughly half-sized book, it would be tough to recommend buying this one even if it were a whole lot better than it is.
Still — three absolutely terrific comics and one intriguing mis-fire is a pretty solid batting average (God, I gotta stop with the baseball metaphors), and if I do this well with next week’s Reading Round-Up column (don’t ask me what that’s going to feature yet, I honestly have no idea), I’ll be very pleased indeed. I certainly was with the wares on offer from Diehl’s Etsy shop, as will you be when you give it a look (which you will, right?) at https://www.etsy.com/shop/FRESHTOWELS