Ten years is a pretty healthy amount of time to stick with anything, especially a labor of love that probably doesn’t bring you in much (if any) cash, but comics writer/self-publisher Jonathan Baylis has manged to do just that and the latest issue of his now long-running series, So Buttons #10, marks a decade in the trenches, telling stories about his life, as well as events, people, and places adjacent to it. And whaddya know? It might just be his best to date.
Before we delve into the contents too deeply, it’s probably worth remarking upon the fact that Baylis has proved the naysayers who initially dismissed him as a Harvey Pekar clone wrong — yeah, he does things the way ol’ Harv did, hiring freelance cartoonists to draw his short vignette-style strips, but that’s about where the similarities end, as Baylis has cultivated a voice and perspective all his own over the years he’s been at it. His stuff is punchy, timed to hit certain well-placed narrative “beats,” and frankly pretty disciplined : extraneous sidebars don’t figure into the equation, nor does he meander deeply into the weeds of whatever subject he’s writing about, instead focusing in on key facts (or perhaps “factoids” would be more appropriate?) that catch a reader’s attention, and then lining them up in a manner that maintains it. The end result may not be anything particularly groundbreaking, but it’s uniformly enjoyable, occasionally informative, and more often than not puts a little smile on your face.
This anniversary installment kicks off with a fun swipe of Jim Aparo’s cover to Detective Comics #469 nicely executed by talented cartoonist Thomas Boatwright, and from there we’re treated to remembrances of Baylis’ recently-departed dog, Mocha, ably illustrated by Haley Boros and Emily Flake, parenting-themed strips gracefully delineated by the wonderful Summer Pierre, a Saturday Night Live “origin story” drawn by Jeremy Nguyen, a brief biographical sketch of Norman Mailer (who shares Baylis’ birthday, a theme he says he’ll be returning to in future) with art by frequent collaborator T.J. Kirsch, an experimental piece with rich, expressive drawings by Kendra Elliott, a history of New York soul food legend Princess Pamela uniquely brought to life by Nicole Miles — honestly, I liked pretty much all the art in this comic, the only exceptions being the work turned in by Paul Westover and Alissa Sallah, who certainly do what they do well, it just so happens that what they do isn’t exactly my cup of tea stylistically, and it probably doesn’t help Westover’s cause that he’s saddled with the one strip in the book I found a bit forced and slightly self-congratulatory, given that it starts out with Baylis patting himself on the back for being a bone marrow donor before (wisely) shifting its attention to the friend who inspired him to become one.
I’m not much for math — nor am I a Yankees fan like Baylis — but I’d say that’s a pretty damn solid batting average there, wouldn’t you? Sure you would. And you’d be exactly right.
What we’ve got here, then, is a comic that actually manages to offer a surprising amount of variety despite ostensibly being an autobio work. The narrative tone/POV doesn’t shift at all, but the art and subject matter do, so that old cliche about “a little something for everyone”? It actually applies here, and I defy just about anyone to not derive a pretty solid amount of enjoyment from a cover-to-cover read of this book. It’s got heart to match its smarts and vice-versa, and you’re more or less guaranteed to get your money’s worth out of it.
A darn good collection of stories to commemorate an auspicious occasion does two things, then — it celebrates all that So Buttons has achieved over the years, and bodes very well for the title’s future. I hope to one day write a review congratulating Baylis and his collaborators on 20 years.
So Buttons #10 is available for $5 (very reasonable for a full-color book) directly from Jonathan Baylis at http://sobuttons.com/order/
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