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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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06/04/2006 Archived Entry: "Graphic novel review: Coffee and Donuts"

Coffee and Donuts
by Max Estes
Published by Top Shelf

Review by Leigh Anne Wilson

For several years the foyer of my old apartment building served as a nighttime resting area for two homeless men. As soon as night would fall and the Chicago winter wind would start piercing the flesh and chilling down to the bone, they would show up at our building, settle down onto the chilly ceramic tile floor and sleep in a layered huddle. The foyer was unheated, but as long as they weren’t rousted back out into the elements, they wouldn’t freeze to death. None of us ever had the heart to complain about having to step over their bodies as they snoozed away beneath our mailboxes, and eventually we became attached to them in the way urban people are about the neighborhood homeless – we left gifts of sandwiches and cans of soda next to them for when they woke up, and we worried amongst ourselves on cold nights when we would come home from the clubs and they weren’t there.

Max Estes’ Coffee and Donuts reminded me, just a little bit, of the difficulty of being down on your luck in a city that, either out of necessity or unconcern, has closed its heart against the homeless.

This simply told, bittersweet story gently presents this against-the-odds tale of survival by using two down-and-out anthropomorphized cats, the charismatic Dwight and the silent Jules, who live in a cleaned out dumpster in the alley. Every morning, a kind-hearted anonymous citizen leaves them a breakfast of coffee and donuts. This small kindness is not enough for them to better themselves, and out of desperation the two plan to rob an armored car. Their poorly executed plan goes horribly awry, and by its end both the police and another cat duo – a pair of hardened criminals, these – are after them.

Estes, a grad student at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, tells his straightforward underdog tale as clearly and accessibly as possible. The black and white illustrations are presented on two circular panels per page, with thick lines and obvious details indicating each characters personality: The amiable, mild mannered Dwight wears glasses, and the bad guy wears an eyepatch. The storyline follows Dwight and Jules from their self-inflicted plight and their pursuit by forces both good and bad, right to its inevitable conclusion, with no twists or real surprises.

It is a quietly satisfying little book, appropriate for all ages. My three-year-old, in fact, made off with the book while I was making dinner. I found him in his room, sitting on the bed with it open on his lap.

"Run, kitty cats, run," he said as he looked at the illustrations.

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