NCPR    |    BY BETSY KEPES & TODD MOE     |    August 28, 2019

Aug 28, 2019 — The 2016 election, a father navigating life as a single parent and life in contemporary New England are all elements in James Sturm’s graphic novel, Off Season. Sturm, who lives in White River Junction, Vermont, is the author of several award-winning graphic novels for children and adults, and is also the founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies. Todd Moe and Betsy Kepes read the illustrated novel about politics, divorce, rage and love, and shared their reviews.

Off Season by James Sturm (Drawn and Quarterly, 2019)

Is it crazy to talk about a graphic novel on the radio, when you can’t see the drawings? Probably, but this one, Off Season by James Sturm, was so good that Todd Moe and I just had to do it.

The sequence of frames here are from the middle of the book in a short chapter called, “Off Season”. I chose these three pages because they show the skill that Sturm has with outside scenes and also interiors and how he makes his humans-with-dog-heads so expressive. He also uses a lot of “back story” in his book and I like the way it intersects with the present, sometimes in the drawings, sometimes in the text.

These three pages also show the characters as they react to each other throughout  the rest of the book. The parents, Mark and Lisa, are separated and angry. Mark is worried about money and Lisa doesn’t understand his thrift. The kids are bratty as they try to figure out what is happening to their parents, and all of the family is trying hard to live their new lives. 

Todd and I sat in his office talking about what made this book memorable for us. I hadn’t realized that Todd has a comic book collection, and he didn’t know that I read lots of comics when I was a kid. My older brother bought them and, well, when he wasn’t looking I’d read them too. So both of us love the concept of words with drawings and it was refreshing to find a book for grown up readers that had the same pleasure as a comic book, but a deeper story.

Sturm has written a handful of other graphic novels, most of them historical fiction. This is his first book where the main characters are not completely human. The dog faces are funny at times (especially in the party scenes) and perhaps he decided that a book with a serious topic needed the lightness that the animal heads add. Or, as Todd mused when we were talking, perhaps he thought he could make dog faces more expressive then human faces.

I bought my copy of Off Season at the Crow Bookshop on the Church Street walking mall in Burlington but of course it is available elsewhere. And since the book doesn’t take long to read/look at you can be sure if you schedule a book discussion with a friend or two they will actually read the book.


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