3/14/12

"The Book of Grickle" by Graham Annable


's "The Book of Grickle" isn't about a particular person, although it has been said that Annable may look like his cartoons, but about a state of mind. The author worked as an animator for most of his professional life, but as more movies became digital he missed the chance to draw on paper.  This book, nominated for an Oregon Book Award in the category of "Graphic Literature," is a culmination of Annable's drive to bring pen to paper.  As he mentions in an interview:

"I started creating short comic stories on the side as a way to keep me drawing something daily. Eventually when I had enough stories I collected them into a little booklet and called it "Grickle"..."The Book of Grickle is a collection of my selected work over the past ten years. It’s published by Dark Horse and it’s all hardbound and definitely the best book to start with for anyone unfamiliar with my work."

"Grickle" is a collection of short stories with subjects bouncing like a superball between science fiction, fantasy, slice of life, romance, murder, and existential crises.  Yet, in all the stories the characters shine much more than the plots.  Through his simple line drawings Annable has distilled the personalities of the characters into fine movements, probably some economy learned as an animator, but also a powerful way to breath life into lines on paper.

If this were a collection of prose stories the closest comparison would be Etgar Keret's book "The Nimrod Flipout: Stories."  For example, in a shorter piece the narrator finds a "wee man" in his car. The wee man is driven to drawing.  As the narrator says "he only stopped for baths and cupcakes." While telling the story Ananable cuts from image to image, dropping two or three words per panel, making a comic book equivalent of a film montage covering many events, days.  Yet, it's done in a way that's most effective as a comic.  It's a classic short story, focusing on the epiphany of the character, cutting to the bone any fat in the narrative.

Another story, "by necessity," rests heavily on a joke about a dead dog, but before you realize it you've been sideswiped by the real story of man unwilling to commit to anything.  I like the small touches: the dog's name "Billy Joel", the way the hero procrastinates yard work by worrying that the rake prongs are bent -- "won't rake properly."

Even as sparse as the art may be, Annable has a distinctive style.  I'd read "dead weight" before, but out of context of "Grickle." It tells the tale of two guys, one desperately trying to get to a party, while the other less-invested dude acts as the negotiator for their ride.  The story was immediately recognizable, and even though I remembered it in a vague way, I had to read it again. The unfolding of the tale to its inevitable end is like picking a scab to see it bleed.

These stories aren't epics. Even when two men go ice fishing and one decides to transcend existence the narrative focus ends with the guy who catches all the fish. "Grickle" can be read as lightweight stories, but the images and themes stick in your head, and re-reading brings more depth.  I suppose that's why the closest comparisons that spring to my mind are the cartoons in the margins of Mad magazine, the eternal struggles of Spy vs Spy, and the reruns of The Simpsons -- they're all just great stories worth seeing again and again.

For more on Graham Annable check out his blog at http://gricklethings.blogspot.com/ or the Grickle website at http://grickle.com.  He's got quite a few little animated shorts posted.  Annable now works for Laika Entertainment in Portland and was a storyboard on the movies Coraline and the soon to be released ParaNorman. Additionally, he worked with Telltalle Games to design a videogame called "Puzzle Agent," roughly based on the Grickle stories.  His twitter feed is http://twitter.com/grickle.

"The Book of Grickle " by Graham Annable has been nominated for an Oregon Book Award in the category of best "Graphic Literature."
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