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Cute Manifesto Gender Yap!
Column by Kerry Garvin and James W. Powell
Posted August 15, 2005

The Cute Manifesto coverWelcome to another edition of Gender Yap! the review column that pits the opinions of one female reviewer against the opinions of a male reviewer to determine a graphic novel's worth for comic fans and non-comic fans of both sexes. This week, the reviewers take on Cute Manifesto, the philosophical compilation of stories by James Kochalka...

KERRY GARVIN: Cute Manifesto, the latest book from James Kochalka, serves as his personal philosophy text. The publisher, Alternative Comics, compares it to the Scientology classic Dianetics, advertising that the book is a, "A powerful mixture of philosophy and comics that can literally change your life forever."

I'm not certain of its life changing properties, but a Kochalka inspired religion is one that I just might be moved to join. Thankfully this book reads nothing like the texts from my Philosophy 101 days and you won't find the average Kant readings here. What you will get is a collection of six of Kochalka's earlier lesser known mini-comics including "Reinventing Everything," "Sunburn," "The Horrible Truth about Comics," and of course, "Cute Manifesto."

If there is one thing that Kochalka knows it's all things cute. Not only is he a father, but he's been drawing cute books for years. There is an inherent cuteness in his style complete with thick lines, bright colors, and round-eyed creatures. The words and the message in this book convey cuteness, but the art definitely ties it all together. The book is filled with babies, outdoor scenes, kittens, and like many of his books, Kochalka himself as an elf. If there is one thing we have grown to expect from this artist, it's cute depictions of himself and his surroundings. This book continues that trend.

JAMES W. POWELL: I'm actually a bit surprised that I liked the cute aspects of this book as much as I did. Don't get me wrong, I'm not some rough and rugged cowboy who can't enjoy a bit of the cute in my media choices, but babies and kittens are still pretty far from my favorite subjects. "Reinventing Everything Part Two" really hit home for me. In this section, Kochalka delves into the idea of bringing new life into a world of violence, anger, and hatred. This is exactly the type of story that I want to share with my wife as we continue to discuss our desires to have children.

But that's not to say that I truly overly Cute Manifesto. Unfortunately for me, the sum of its parts does not make a beautiful whole. I was certainly absorbed with several of Kochalka's philosophies, but others were simply lost on me. For example, even after some contemplation, "Sunburn" just couldn't touch me the way "Cute Manifesto" could. I'll admit that I did this book a disservice by reading the entire thing in one sitting, but that's not a completely valid excuse for it not keeping me engrossed throughout.

Cute Manifesto: "Sunburn"KERRY GARVIN: No doubt about it, James, "Reinventing Everything" parts 1 and 2 are the strongest sections of the book. I especially enjoyed the section in Part 1 where Kochalka is playing Gameboy on the beach. On these pages he switches his drawing style to emulate the look of old video games. The pages are pixilated in order to fit in with the words on those pages. This is a very creative way to draw these pages and it makes them some of the strongest in the book.

While these two stories are the best, I enjoyed each story in the collection. To me "Sunburn" felt like a warm-up to the book. In it Kochalka introduces the idea and layout to the book. It also takes a more introspective look at why he wants to do this story and what drives him as a person. To me it was highly relatable, since it says as its base that all humans are alike and on this earth together. I also liked the last page in particular where the reader is treated to many short bursts of good advice. Sure, the advice isn't ground-breaking, but it is good to see it in print anyway.

You mentioned that "Reinventing Everything Part 2" really hit close to home. How did you feel about the "Horrible Truth about Comics" considering we both have such a passion for the medium?

The Horrible Truth About ComicsJAMES W. POWELL: I have to admit that I needed to read that section twice. The first time through, I thought it was a little too Scott McCloud for me. It felt like something I had seen before, and McCloud did it much better. But upon a second, closer read, I found that Kochalka's thoughts on art and comics are a little different, and as it turns out, they mirror my own. His philosophy on art (and the artist) isn't necessarily profound, but it certainly serves as a wake-up call for anyone who desires to create the perfect piece of art. "Horrible Truth About Comics" is very well executed in the fact that Kochalka's narrative flows from one idea into the next to create a cohesive, thought-provoking look into what comics are, and how they work (or don't work).

Regardless of whether or not I actually liked reading this collection of stories, I'd consider The Cute Manifesto a success simply because Kochalka has created art that makes me think, not only about art and comics, but about beauty and the world we live in. It certainly hasn't saved my life or created some sort of convert out of me, but it certainly led me to a little reflection. And that my friend, is something I'll always appreciate.

Kerry Garvin: You're right. The comic isn't life changing as advertised, but it was a fun little journey filled with many sound thoughts, good ideas, and cute drawings. It accomplishes its main goal. Given its genre busting nature, this would be an excellent comic for both male and female first-time comic readers. Let's face it ladies, we've been known to like cute things and covers don't get much more adorable. Don't let the cuteness fool you though, there are good stories behind the babies and kittens that will please even the most serious of comic enthusiasts.

JAMES W. Powell: Even for diehard superhero fans?

Kerry Garvin: I think those looking to expand their horizons would enjoy the book. My pull list is about 50-50 between monthly superhero books and independent comics and I enjoyed it immensely. If, however, you aren’t into anything but crime fighters and aren’t looking to give a new book a try, then obviously this isn’t one you’d even consider.

Gender Yap!

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