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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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06/10/2007 Archived Entry: "American Elf, Book Two"

American Elf, Book Two
by James Kochalka
Top Shelf Productions

Review by Tom Good

James Kochalka is back with more American Elf, his daily diary in the form of a comic strip. Book Two collects two years of entries, from January 2004 to December 2005. Unlike the first book which was black and white, this one is all in color. So let me get the cranky, picky part of this review out at the beginning: I miss the monochrome version. The simplicity of Kochalka's style makes American Elf fun, so color does not really add much. And the coloring varies from one day's strip to the next. In a book arranged with four strips per page in chronological order, compositions with inconsistent flesh tones and clashing colors appear right next to each other. In the original format of one strip per day, this would not matter, but when collected together, I found it distracting. Aside from that, though, I did enjoy this book just as much as the first one.

The content celebrates mundane moments from everyday life -- cute exchanges between husband and wife, or silly things like Kochalka making a toupee for his cat. Sometimes he seems to perfectly capture odd events that are unique to our era. In one strip, titled "Anectdotally [sic] Hoist By My Own Petard," Kochalka begins to tell a story to a friend, who cuts him off, saying, "I know, I read your strip online." (I once had a similar experience when I mentioned my latest trip, only to have a friend say he had already read about it on my blog. I had a weird feeling of having spoiled my own story.)

Perhaps American Elf succeeds because it is easy to recognize aspects of oneself or friends in its many situations. On the other hand, could a reader recognize Kochalka on the street? That might be tricky. A few photos at the back of the book provide the opportunity to compare the drawings with the actual appearance of the artist and his family. Of course, Kochalka does not really have the long pointy ears, buck teeth, or protruding upper lip of his comic character. In a way he is almost disappointingly normal-looking after seeing the comics. Nevertheless, something about his drawings -- especially those of his wife Amy -- feels on target even though they are not realistic, as if he has captured some essential quality of a person in just a few lines.

In one strip, Kochalka reveals: "It took me about six hours to do yesterday's diary strip. I drew things and erased them. I couldn't find the right thing. Nothing was right. If every day were like this I would have to die." Well, I'm glad every day is not like that. American Elf is a lot of fun.

See also:

American Elf website
American Elf, Book One review by Tom Good

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