Thoughts on Josh Cotter’s Skyscrapers
of the Midwest
Cotter’s most recent project is Nod Away,
the first of what is expected to be a many-volume series. I picked up Skyscrapers
of the Midwest and Driven by Lemons as an introduction to his work,
prior to reading Nod Away. The collection is a dense hardcover with all the frills. It’s nice to see that kind of attention paid to book design in a marketplace dominated by paperback books.
The skyscraper of Skyscrapers of the Midwest is
a grain elevator, a high cost implement used in the storage of cereal grains
like corn and wheat. This is important to me, because this thing, this
building, this sight, is a part of my childhood and a distinct set piece for a
very specific part of the world. Its appearance in these comics, the fine
detail of Cotter’s drawing, gives these often surreal comics a locality, a
place-hood. Amongst giant god-robots roaming the land, Tyrannosaurus Rexes
fighting packs of wolves, and giant cicadas taking root in the heads of
characters, the grain elevator is the anchor to reality.
Cotter is fond of symbols. The aforementioned
cicada, which represents mindlessness (via migraine or violence) is one of
many. I noticed this in Driven by Lemons as well, so I’m interested in
seeing if this carries through to his later work.
Cotter’s line is very nice. The heaviness fits
the mood of the collection. The hatching feels right, dark and brooding. Sometimes the style changes to fit the needs of the storytelling. There’s a lot of formal exploration and experimentation in this work, which I like (and which mirrors Driven by Lemons, which is a much more abstract work of cartooning).
Some elements feel a little over the top, like
the little mail column interspersed through the collection called “Skyscraper
Express.” Cotter’s blending of “found print objects” and comics is at times
very well done, so your mileage may vary.
If you want to get into the tedious details, Skyscrapers
of the Midwest seems to be a sort of autobiography, with Cotter himself
playing the leading role. The emotion of Skyscrapers of the Midwest is
real, and you can feel the weight of certain details that would probably feel
gratuitous if not based off memory. Certain stories hurt to read, especially
the way that Cotter deals with the death of his grandmother. But the strength
of Skyscrapers of the Midwest is how Cotter strays from reality. The
best stories in the collection are where the fantastic and the mundane blend
I’m impressed with the strength of this book,
and it seems clear why AdHouse picked up the minis for publication. I realize
that Skyscrapers of the Midwest is older; the collection which I
recently finished was published in 2008, and the original issues started
publication in 2004. That means that much of the collection is now a decade
old. So… find a copy of this book from the library (which is what I did), buy a
copy direct from the publisher, AdHouse Books, or buy a second hand copy from
Amazon if that’s your thing. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
Joshua Cotter’s latest comic, Nod Away, is published by @fantagraphics.