Sweaterweather & Other Short Stories
By Sara Varon
Author’s website: http://www.chickenopolis.com/
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Scott
Normally, I’m not predisposed to anthropomorphic comics. It takes certain panache to pull off being a rarity and almost a retro look in the modern comic’s industry; and Sara Varon pulls it off with a touch more flair, with her eccentrically drawn creatures and people. Sweaterweather & Other Stories (hereafter Sweaterweather) is a diary in the life of Varon as an artist. The stories encompass more than a decade of mini-comics and other curios and are a delight to read. The chronology isn’t perfect but in the context of the whole it works and works well. Chronicling her rise to an independent full-time illustrator, Sweaterweather is a rare glimpse into the process of the artist’s mind at work, both reflective and introspective – a rare treat in today’s age of graphic novels.
The graphic novel is a collection of vignettes, short strips of comics that convey a beginning, middle and end. Taken from various points in her career, this collection of “shorts” run the gamut of boxing matches, the secrets of how to urban farm bees, and even a jab at clueless book reviewers. With the primary characters being animals, the reader is lured into the story and its deeper meaning to the work (if at all there is one). Some stories are ambivalent and trite, simply being for the sake of artistic expression, others are more proliferous such as the bee story, in which Varon exposes her interest in urban breeding, and at length describes the inner workings of the beehive and urban beekeeping. In her epilogue, so to speak, we find the artist bare, revealing her hopes and fears about life as strictly doing art – without the benefit of a “day job.”
Graduating from a fine arts college, Varon is classically trained (as seen briefly in a portrait in her “5 day comic strip”) and to discard realism for the phantasmagoria that the art in Sweaterweather, is a remarkable achievement. All types of animals are depicted, and each carries their own weight in stylistic independence. The composition of the frames, working off the “six panel grid” of more traditional comics, is fluid as the eye picks out the important details in each story and weighs them against other elements in the scene. Although some might call the drawing style “juvenile,” it takes an impressive amount of skill to pull this style off with the ease that is portrayed here. Over the course of the decade or so, you see improvement in graphical layout, design and the complexity of the story that takes place in so little space.
Being anthropomorphic animals, the characters are allowed a lot more leeway in Varon’s art, compressing and expanding, transforming and moving in a distinct rhythm that’s hard to pin down. Her pieces of people are satisfied by engaging in only realistic fashion. With animals Varon seems to disregard reality temporarily, gleefully engaging in hyper-exaggerated fisticuffs, bizarre characters on book review safaris, and other examples of whimsical flights of fancy. Even in the only colored piece of artwork a human grows feathers in a pot so he can have wings to fly like a bird, It’s quite astounding.
For fans of James Kochalka, animal tales (no pun intended), and for the sheer love of a short, but insightful look into the mind of a comic’s author, look no further than Sweaterweather. It is a fantastic piece of picture and word and is sure to be a delight to readers of any form or function. It’s educational, introspective, whimsical and a darn good read.