I've had a copy of J.T. Yost's Xeric Award winning book, Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales for at least a couple weeks now. And it's got some good stuff in it – easy to see why it caught the eyes of the Xeric Grant folks. The first tale, "OId Man Winter" is new (the other stories in the book have all appeared elsewhere previously) and is a well-done small story with a lot of emotional punch about an old man's small circuit in life. It has the feel of a good character-driven indie movie and I'd recommend the book and future work from Yost on the basis of it alone.
I suppose there are mild spoilers here, but "Old Man Winter" is not the kind of story you read for plot – it's characterization and atmosphere that make it work. In its 25 pages, Yost captures small slices of death, loss, love, family, neighborhood, routine and habit without much of a false note. Heavy subjects are easy to mangle in less-capable, less mature artist's hands, but Yost makes some interesting choices to reveal something about basic humanity. I especially liked the way much is revealed through the actions and conversations of the employees at the store the old man visits as part of his daily routine. That seemed entirely real and the scenes both stayed in the nature of everyday conversation but also managed at another level to touch on some deeper emotional truths.
I don't think the rest of the book is in the same league as this story. "Logging Sanjay" isn't bad and has it's funny moments. It doesn't have any real emotional pull to it, however, as there doesn't seem to be any real purpose to telling the story other than, well, it happened. It's apparently a true story, but I think there might have been a more powerful story there, if Yost had considered fictionalizing it and tried to find something deeper about the characters in it to tell. In any event it pales simply for following the "Old Man Winter" story.
The other three stories are all didactic in nature — firmly against animal cruelty and meat. Meat is murder! Being mean to animals is bad! I get it. But as comics they just don't work that well. First, again they all pale against the emotional complexity and artistic maturity of the first story. They're one-note and simplistic. They offer no real narrative or characters; they don't really rise above the kind of shock pamphlet you might receive from an advocacy group hanging out at the mall.
And it's clear from looking around at Yost's website that he really does care about these issues. But issues alone don't usually make great art in any medium. Make great art — great comics — first. I'm not opposed to reading comics that touch on the subjects of animal cruelty, but it has to work as a comic first and as a lesson second.
So overall somewhat of a mixed bag for this specific book, but I really cannot recommend the comic "Old Man Winter" enough — I hope we all see a lot more from Yost building on what he's accomplished in that comic.
Note: The creator provided a free copy to ComixTalk for review purposes.