Perfect Example – written & illustrated by John Porcellino

      Perfect Example – written & illustrated by John Porcellino, Drawn and Quarterly, 9781770464681, 2021 (originally published in 2000) 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Paperback

Genre: Graphic novel/memoir

What did you like about the book?  This re-issue of Porcellino’s early work is a memoir of  the year between high school and college as he struggles with feelings of depression, alienation and ennui. A skater and lover of the hard-core punk band Hüsker Dü, John finds even simple decisions, like whether to stay at a party or speak to a girl, overwhelming. The book is divided into six sections, each with its own story arc: sometimes John agonizes over his complicated relationship with his parents, other times he goes to a thrift store or concert with some friends, or in one happy moment, on a road trip to visit a pal’s grandfather in Wisconsin. The spare and elegant artwork (and John’s puffy forelock) really recalled Charlie Brown for me, and the author echoes Schulz’s visual simplicity as he clears the stage for a deep plunge into existentialism and a critical look at life in the suburbs. Some panels are wordless and Porcellino effectively uses metaphorical settings to express emotion: a black night at the lakefront, an aerial shot of a car on a road to nowhere. A poignant endnote in the form of a resume will fill in fans who want to know how Porcellino’s life turned out after Huffman Estates.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I loved this author’s Thoreau at Walden (2008) in which he uses Thoreau’s own words. There, the simplicity of the philosopher’s preaching is well-matched to the art. Here, in contrast, I found the spareness left me confused.  I often had trouble distinguishing between characters or figuring out who was speaking.  The sameness of the images does convey the flatness of John’s emotional state, but it also made it difficult for me to power through the book.  Although I can see how these comics were novel in 2000, the deluge of graphic novel memoirs since then may have relegated this effort to a retro niche, rather than a first choice for today’s teens.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Most likely to be of interest to those around Porcellino’s age, who recall this era with a mix of horror and nostalgia. The iconic art and presentation of mental illness may give it broader appeal. The mature language and escapades mean that the book is appropriate for older teens or adults.

Who should buy this book? Public libraries in which the author’s work is popular or who want a comprehensive collection of ground-breaking, early graphic novel memoirs.

Where would you shelve it? Graphic novels.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: January 29, 2021

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