Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Review of Joe Ollmann’s “Mid-Life”

“Maybe I shouldn’t be laughing so hard?” This is the thought I had several times during the reading of Joe Ollmann’s extremely funny graphic novel, “Mid-Life.” I’ve always said my goal in life is to reach 80; a lofty one as my father and grandfathers didn’t make it. Last year I turned 40. I’m exactly halfway between birth and death; depicted just like the cartoon oven like dial drawn on the inside cover. As a father with two small children of my own, I could only relate too well to Joe Ollmann’s fictitious cartoon doppelganger John Olsen (who graces the cover of the book wearing an emasculating Petunia Pickle Bottom like diaper bag – just like one I wore for at least four years). John, like his real artist creator, is on his second marriage to a much younger woman and has had a new son who is still in diapers. He has two grown daughters and three cats from his previous marriage.

The scatological opening of “Mid-Life” commences with John Olsen, 40 years old, surrounded by shit, literally and with litter. Dealing with cat feces and dirty diapers, the sleep deprived father who seems to have a mild drinking problem moves back and forth from his day job as a magazine designer to night-time and weekend father of little Sam. In between trying to connect emotionally with his two grown daughters, John ogles young woman like a hungover university student ogles the sausages and bacon at the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. He hates himself for it, but can’t help it. Now already having raised two girls, John barely has the energy for his new son. So to compensate, John often parks himself on the couch to gaze glassy eyed at banal children’s DVDs, one after the next. When he is passed a kid’s promotional video of “Sherri Smalls and her Big Band” he quickly becomes infatuated with the good looking children’s performer (please tell me I’m not the only dad who has Googled Jenn Korbee of Hi5?). Sherri Smalls is the other half of “Mid-Life.” We meet Sherri at a point in her career where she must decide if she really wants to become a professional children’s entertainer (giving up her on-again off-again bad-boy boyfriend, who swills whiskey and smokes like a member of Montly Crue in his monkey suit after the end of each kids’ show) by signing with a big TV studio, ultimately dashing all her hopes of ever becoming a real singer for adults. While Sherri is eating bags of potato chips and drowning her sorrows in red wine, her way of coping with what she views as selling out to the corporate machine, John Olsen has been Googling her name, his obsession with the performer verging dangerously closer to a second divorce.

As the two storylines intersect, the conclusion is an uncomfortable train-wreck that I found myself unable to put down. I loved “Mid-Life.” It reminded me of another comic strip that I’ve been following for close to 20 years now, The Globe & Mail’s “Fisher,” however “Mid-Life” is an R-Rated version of Philip Street’s “Fisher,” as if it had been poured through a Robert Crumb filter. What gets spilled out onto the page is a hilarious and often brutally honest tale of two adults coming to grips with their failed youthful artist ambitions and their desire for something more than just a monthly paycheque. I highly recommend “Mid-Life.”

Christian McPherson (C) 2011.

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