GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Postcards edited by Jason Rodriguez
Everyone has a story – at least one. Every human life could be told in some way, to illustrate a point, or evoke an emotion, or just entertain an audience. Postcards attempts to tell some of those stories, or to create stories based on tiny pieces of real people’s lives, almost randomly – to invent stories out of the smallest of seeds.
Jason Rodriguez, author of the Harvey-nominated Elk’s Run, gathered up a bunch of vintage postcards, sent them to various artist-writer teams he knew, and asked for comics about the people who sent the postcards. In theory, it’s a great idea. (Of course, everything is wonderful in theory.) In practice, this particular collection of postcard-inspired stories are nearly all sad, depressing tales, and the relentless one-note gloom keeps any of the stories from really standing out. It’s not clear whether Rodriguez’s instructions were responsible for this, of if the choice of creators led to the unremitting bleakness, or if it was just bad luck. Rodriguez’s prefaratory notes to each story do make him seem like a micro-manager, though, with explanations that he gave this postcard to this person expecting X, and that he was sure another artist would be just right for another postcard because of Y.
Postcards starts out mildly: the first story, “Blue” (by Chris Stevens and Gia-Bao Tran) is a piece about memory and fantasy on the Jersey shore. Next, Tom Beland’s “Time” gives us a sad old man, ready to join his dead wife in whatever may come next – he’s one of the few characters who clearly had a reason to be unhappy at a specific point in time. Most of the stories here spin out sadness and depression from bland and happy-seeming postcard sentiments, as if each separate creator had the same thought: “a happy story is boring; so I’ll do something serious.”
Thus we get lesbian lovers thwarted by class differences, embezzlers, random murders, unhappy marriages with either emotional or physical abuse, lost friendships, dying parents, con-men, quarantines and highway robbery. At the very end, some glints of light reemerge with a cartoony masked hero, a young man off to WWII’s North Africa (from the tone of the anthology, I was sure he’d die on the beaches), and, finally, the story of the last thirty years in Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar’s lives in a few notes.
I don’t have anything against sad stories, personally, but the pieces in Postcards are nearly all sad in exactly the same way, as if they’re all saying “Gosh, it really sucked to live in a time that isn’t now, didn’t it?” And that quickly turned tedious. None of the stories in Postcards really stood out for me as particularly special – they’re all professional, and would be interesting encountered separately – but, en masse, they’re deadly.
Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened
edited by Jason Rodriguez
Villard, 2007, $21.95