The Copybook Tales

 “I like the art. Neat lettering.” That was my boyfriend Andy’s immediate reaction when he looked over my shoulder as I started reading these. I agree. (Now leave me alone and let me read, OK?)

The art reminds me of Evan Dorkin’s Pirate Corps work, but without the fine point pen he uses for details… this is a photocopied book after all. The Little Orphan Annie eyes clinch it. And, uh, look closely at the kitchen scene in #5. {grin} The art is a bit cartoony, but that’s not used as an excuse for over-the-top caricature. Levins makes good use of hairstyles and facial structure to distinguish the boys from each other. He does some nice stuff with non-standard page layouts… the kind that any self-challenging artist who’s read Understanding Comics would want to try. {grin} They got a form-letter-for-fanboys rejection slip (”keep practicing”) from Extreme Studios. And Levin’s grandparents didn’t understand it, either. {shrug}

The story switches between extensive flashbacks to 1985 (when the central character Jamie was in high school) and the present. I remember someone commenting that they got confused about which parts were “flashback” and
which were “present”. Just remember that the gutters between panels are white in flashbacks and black in the present. Also, I think Levins does a good job of depicting the ages of characters, whether adolescent, young adult, or the occasional middle-aged bit character.

The “flashback” parts are lots of good, nostalgic fun. It’s very much how I remember my days in high school… well, more how I remember wishing they were were… that is, it’s what high school ought to be like: exciting new experiences, hanging out with the gang, clothes and hair that “say something”, staying up late, catchphrases and nicknames, and (of course) comic books. The kids actually look like kids, which is all too rare in comics. If this is auto-bio (and the subject matter of two friends with aspirations of creating comics together rather suggests it is), it’s wonderful self-deprecating humour. I laughed out loud several times reading it… in part because I saw bits of myself reflected.

The “present” parts are bit more serious, dealing with dreams deferred, derailed, and/or turned in different directions. The cast has dwindled, leaving mostly just J. and Tim… I mean Jamie and Thatcher. {grin}
The comic books are still there, but Jamie’s creation “Northforce” is being supplanted by a more thoughtful project, which will no doubt become The Copybook Tales. The humour and hope of the earlier time remain, however. (The scene in the comic book store, taking jabs at the current mainstream market, is quite fun, especially if you read the backgrounds.) I could see myself in these parts, as well.

Engaging writing, appealing art, “neat lettering”… I can’t wait until the issue in which Thatcher & Jamie sign a deal with a small-press publisher like Slave Labor {grin}. [Note: That's exactly what Torres and Levins had just done, resulting in a series from SLG, all of which was subsequently reprinted in paperback.]

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