Thursday, May 11, 2006

Little Star

It's not easy being a dad.

It's also not all that hard.

Andi Watson knows this, and sets it down in Little Star from Oni Press. After drawing raves in it's original monthly release, the series is now collected in a trade paperback. There's not much extra here if you've read the series already, but this digest-sized novel is a perfect way to wrap it up as a Father's Day present when that time rolls around. And an excellent present it would make, as fatherhood is as the heart of Little Star.

With simple, cartoonish characters that have the feel of classic magazine illustration, Andi Watson tells short stories about life as an involved dad. Though some themes and storylines weave through the series, it's mainly vignettes about the challenges of fatherhood. The lead character, Simon Adams, works part-time in a porcelain factory filling in as needed after giving up a career as a designer. As a father who works at home and who is very involved with his kids, I found it all familiar: difficulties with finances, the balance of job and family, the early morning waking, and the often painful reminders that at times you're simply not Mom and never can be. The tone of the book rings true to me, as it never strays to the maudlin on either side. This isn't about the drudgery and sacrifice, nor is it a tearjerker about the beauty of parenthood. It's largely a recording, a setting-down of the thoughts and experiences of life as a father. Watson makes it clear that Simon's sacrifices are worth it, but it's not in a moment of transcendent beauty: like everything else in Little Star it is a small and balanced epiphany.

What shone for me in Little Star was the balance of it all. There's an extended section near the end of the book where Watson describes fatherhood as a "very long shopping list of contradictory emotions often experienced simultaneously", and that feeling and viewpoint saturates almost every page. This series almost feels odd in a collected format, because part of the point is that being a father doesn't all hang together. Though there's a symbolic framework here that lends it a sense of wholeness, Little Star is about the details of the day-to-day. There's no defining message there that "fatherhood is _____", rather a message that "fatherhood is _____ then it's _____ then _____ and then it's tea time". It is about the dichotomies and frictions that make fatherhood simultaneously challenge and reward. At times Little Star feels like it will spin itself apart with these contradictions, but it all manages to hang together ... just like Simon.

Little Star
is a book that looks at a subject that's often far outside what comics address. Even the indy comics scene primarily concerns itself with the cares of youth, and it's great to read something that reflects my life. I completely recommend it, and hope I'll see more of Simon Adams and his adventures in fatherhood in the future.


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