Review by Frank Plowright
For all the biographical graphic novels produced over the years, anecdotal short stories is a rare form. Everyone has a few experiences worth wider circulation, and fortunately Rob Maisch has some pretty talented friends. When they heard his anecdotes they offered to draw them, Scott Hampton to begin with, then Bo Hampton, Rand Holmes and Sandy Plunkett.
Over five stories Maisch is able to dredge up not only teenage memories, but the feelings associated with them, shame, anger, mischief, envy and embarrassment. It’s these feelings that elevate the stories slightly above incidents we all remember from being a similar age, and the best of them raise some real belly laughs. Holmes is the only artist not to produce his own adaptation, Scott Hampton adapting and laying out his pages tackling the neighbourhood kids being rallied against a grumpy middle-aged man. It’s the best match of artist with anecdote, as for all their other strengths none of the other artists really have a comedy style.
Making up for that are both Hampton brothers and Plunkett being phenomenally talented, and additionally any Plunkett artwork anywhere being the equivalent of hen’s teeth. As ever, his line is delicate, his brushwork to drool over and his people have a Rockwellesque life to them. It might be only four pages, but they’re phenomenal. Unfortunately, they’re also illustrating an anecdote about a teenage boy and a prostitute. Maisch’s career was as an advertising and marketing executive, and time has rendered offensive what in 1995 might have been seen as the laddish attitudes of salesmen. References on the opening page to unattractive women as “mongrel” and “ken-l-ration” set a nasty tone that might have been excusable as the ignorant comments of 1960s teenage boys, but are included in narrative captions presented in hindsight. That the purpose of ‘Slow Dance’ is boys awakening to their poor treatment of girls only makes it worse.
Scott Hampton produces the most art, supplying layouts for Holmes, painting a strip about a know it all collector, and rendering the opening strip in pen and ink (sample left). He’s known for his watercolour approach, which makes the black and white strip a surprise, nicely shaded and delicately drawn. Bo Hampton’s piece is also pleasant, this featuring a grey wash as the adult Maisch meets a childhood hero when his shopping mall holds a promotion around an old Western TV star.
Put aside the poor comments about women, and the stories are funny, and the period, be it the 1960s, the 1970s or the 1980s, is always carefully recreated. There’s a half hour of laughs to be had in Confessions of a Cereal Eater, and a lot of art to admire, but the title is never entirely explained beyond its daft allusion. All that being the case perhaps NBM could have sprung for a better cover rather than letting the intern loose on Photoshop. More of Maisch’s anecdotes were eventually released as four comics.