Review by Frank Plowright
Jamison Odone has several strings to his bow, but he seems primarily an Associate Professor of Illustration at a Maryland university with a sideline producing illustrations for children’s books. On his Goodreads page he notes creation as a constant struggle. His responses to the covid pandemic read as far more than a struggle. For half the book it reads as a man falling to pieces.
Drawings of depressed rabbits precede illustrated poems musing on death by the likes of Thomas Hardy, Edna St Vincent Millay, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, while strips between are packed with symbols of death. That’s followed by morbid or nihilistic cartoons, and what seem to be self-portraits, each with a different message on the hoodie, none of them positive. After a hundred pages bereft of hope or cheer it’s hardly going to be unique to wonder if Odone has a therapist, followed by the thought that a stiff drink will encourage fortitude for working through 250 more pages.
Focussing just on the drawing, it’s perhaps obvious to note that an illustrator of children’s books is incredibly talented. Some pieces are just dashed off, others have more thought given to composition, and then there are some stunning pages that are the full detailed Victorian-style engraving.
Nothing extends beyond five or six pages at most, and a single panel or drawing per page occurs more frequently than two. The presumption is that the content of My First Pandemic is supplied in the order of creation, but it could be otherwise to present a fall and rise arc. Moving onward, Odone reveals that it’s not only the tragedies and restrictions of the covid pandemic on his mind, but that his step-father has also recently died. Excerpted lyrics from rock musicians compete for attention with the poets, and more hoodies, rabbits, and stumpy nihilist creatures feature. However, around the halfway mark rays of hope begin to appear, and instead of thoughts of death Odone opens out to consider the larger universe and anecdotes from his youth.
By the end there is a complete broadening of theme, a blossoming, and the strips are poignant, instructive and enlightening. Of particular note are thoughts about the legacy of teachers, reinforcing that words can describe in dire circumstances, and several witty epigrams and observations. Odone feels burdened by the expectations of others, not keen on the casual enquiry of what he’s been up to, but possesses the sharp skill of being able mull over the ordinary. At times it reads like a solitary, pastoral version of Jules Feiffer.
When any published work is so intimately associated with the creator’s mental state at the time of creation any functional criticism is unwelcome, and to some extent worthless. Equally, Odone has published My First Pandemic, and money is being asked for it. Some readers might find that Odone gives voice to their similar powerless feelings, and these people will derive the most from Odone’s thoughts. Those less attuned will find much of value, only they’ll have to earn it by reading the first half of the book, or cheat by skipping forward.
As yet, My First Pandemic isn’t listed with many online retailers, but is available direct from publisher Black Panel Press.