by Adam Cadwell
There’s a simple joy in well crafted, well observed autobiographical comics, it’s not something that appeals to everyone, but I’ve always loved the genre. So easy to get wrong though – there’s nothing worse than a series of strips whining about your life and detailing a succession of boring non-events – but when the whining and the non-events are done right it’s always a pleasure to read.
My benchmarks for autobiographical works used to be Joe Matt, Chester Brown and Harvey Pekar but as things have changed and moved on I’ve two new perfect examples of brilliant autobiographical tales; James Kochalka’s American Elf (review) and Marc Ellerby’s Ellerbisms (review). They both started as simple strips concentrating on mere moments in the artist’s lives, some of this is through choice, much of it is through the necessity of the format of choice for both strips; the regular (and in Kochalka’s case daily) webcomic. But both American Elf and Ellerbisms have developed this immediate hit of webcomic autobiography into a longer narrative; with Kolchalka it’s repeating themes of parenthood and development, with Ellerby it’s his relationship with girlfriend Anna that drives his strip. Both are excellent examples of how to get this difficult autobiog style right.
And now I have another: Adam Cadwell’s The Everyday was already familiar to me after frequent mentions on Ellerby’s blog and guest appearances on Ellerbisms. As usual I avoided the webcomic version figuring I’d pick up these beautifully put together collected editions. Which I’ve now gotten hold of. First impressions are incredibly strong; the professionalism of Cadwell’s design and the whole package is top notch. The cover to the Collected Everyday 1 is a beautiful object in itself, regardless of the insides.
Each collected comic holds 50 of Cadwell’s The Everyday strips – called The Everyday more for their down to earth and commonplace subject matter than their frequency. Cadwell updates regularly though and these 150 strips cover September 2006 and March 2009 – pretty good going.
(Simple observational autobiog comics – Mark Cadwell’s The Everyday)
Cadwell’s work is much more slice of life, observational style than others. This means that the majority of strips tend to be stand-alone things, relying on an interesting idea, event or gag than any narrative, concentrating on the immediacy of the moment being conveyed in 3 or 4 panels of the strip. It’s something that really stands or falls on the skill of the artist in question. Luckily Cadwell’s up to the task. Personal reflection, memories, casual meetings when out and about, daily life for Cadwell and his friends and inevitably, struggling to come up with story ideas; these are the topics Cadwell finds himself covering regularly. But where some autobiography that concentrates only on the minutiae of everyday life does come unstuck with the repetition, Cadwell’s work is fresh and interesting to read.
(The ongoing problem of the autobiog comic – has this been done already by Kochalka? Cadwell’s introspective stuff about the process never falls into whining and even here he makes the question of originality work.)
It helps that Cadwell’s artistic style is incredibly refined and developed; body language, perspective, timing, page layout – everything works so wonderfully well. Even the times when the strip may be a little weak the artwork is never anything less than lovely.
As with any strip of this sort there’s a period early on when he’s rather casting about in an attempt to develop a proper style, to really find his voice – the art in Collection 1 is a pale reflection of the beautiful lines on show in the two later collections. But when he does get a handle on what he’s trying to accomplish with The Everyday it’s a fine, fine bit of autobiog comics. And personally I think that moment happens somewhere in The Collected Everyday Volume 2. It’s here where almost every strip works and from here onwards I found myself absolutely enthralled by whatever event Cadwell threw my way:
Hopefully those two strips above made you smile just the way I did. Cadwell’s sense of comic timing and subtly effective use of both body language and facial expressions are a highlight of his work for me.
Having said that, there was a moment in Collection 3 where Cadwell needed to bring a more serious tone into his work and with two very simply done strips he gets a sense of hopelessness and sudden lack of direction onto the page simply and elegantly:
As for the future of The Everyday – I don’t know. Will Cadwell grow tired of the single strip, disconnected approach and tackle more continuous and maybe more serious pieces? The two pages above prove to me that he can. Personally I hope he just carries on growing and developing. Mix it up, try the new, keep with the old, do them both. I’ll be reading along whatever.
Like I said at the start of this, there’s a simple joy in well crafted, well observed autobiographical comics – a simple joy that’s found throughout The Everyday.
Adam Cadwell’s The Everyday is available online at www.theeveryday.adamcadwell.com. The three collected editions are available from Cadwell’s webshop. I’d happily recommend all three and will be following his work online and in print from now on. He’s definitely one to watch.