Monday, May 11, 2009

Review: Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales

Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales, by J.T. Yost, 2009, Birdcage Bottom Books, 56 pages, $6.95

This 2009 Xeric Award winner is a fairly excellent collection of five short stories, three of which are powerful condemnations of the treatment of animals by humans. Be forewarned: this book will take you aback with some graphic depictions of cruelty to animals.

The first and longest story is not about animals, though. "Old Man Winter" is a sad tale of an elderly widower with little going on in his life. This story was created most recently and was probably my favorite story in the book. It certainly has the strongest art, with author Yost's linework seeming more confident. Here's the first page of the story:

(click to enlarge -- note that printed version is black and white)

Something about that image reminds me of Where the Wild Things Are. Without giving away the ending, I will say that the story ends rather abruptly, but in a way that feels true to life.

The second story is a four-pager called "All is forgiven," about a scientist who experiments on bunnies, chimps, and kittens. Yup, you'll feel pretty crummy after seeing these helpless animals caged, scared, and in pain. There's not too much to say about this one; it almost feels like a warm-up to what comes later.

Third is "Logging Sanjay," an eight-page autobiographical story about Yost and a friend playing a practical joke on a friend and his family. It feels slightly out of place in this collection, since it is more light-hearted in tone. Perhaps Yost included it because it's another example of the casual cruelty that people inflict on other creatures (humans or animals), but I might be looking too hard for a connection. It's probably my least favorite story, and it doesn't seem like Yost spent as much time on the art.

Fourth is the ass-kicker. "Roadtrip" is a wordless story that shows the parallel lives of a young girl and a young cow. The panels alternate between the girl's innocent happy fun world and the mirrored hellish life of the cow as it is put through a factory farm's slaughterhouse.

(click to enlarge)

It's horrifying, and the contrast of the two lives makes the story that much more powerful and upsetting. You'll think twice before again eating mass-produced meat or feeding it to your family, trust me.

The final story, "Running Away With the Circus / Running Away From the Circus," is similar to "Roadtrip" in that it compares the lives of a person and an elephant who are now facing each other inside the circus ring. But here, everybody has a crappy life. It draws its strength from its unblinking depictions of violence, and it's a strong closer for the collection.

Other than my concerns about the "Logging Sanjay" story, my only criticism of the book would be that I think the cover is awful. It's dominated by an ugly color and almost illegible lettering, and I worry that people will be put off from checking this out simply because of it.

But please do look beyond the cover, as the book really is worth reading. It goes for the throat, and its affecting message will open your eyes and get you thinking about how we should be treating animals.

READ IT: See a bunch of pages from the book here. And here's an interview with Yost.

BUY IT: From the publisher here.

RELATED: My review of another 2009 Xeric Award winner, Box Brown's Love is a Peculiar Type of Thing

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review, Sandy!
    This book will also be available in the June issue of Diamond Previews.