This week, we’re going to take a look at Patt Kelley’s “What Am I Going To Do Without You?” It’s Patt Kelley’s first full-length solo book, so it’s a little rough around the edges, but there is a lot of talent here–especially for storytelling. At 125 pages, written, drawn, inked and watercolored (in greys) all by Kelley, it’s clear that “WAIGTDWY?” is a labor of love. That love is evident throughout, in the moody watercolors, in the ways in which the characters interact with each other, and in the overall message of the book itself: No matter how tough life gets, there are always beautiful moments that make it all worthwhile, as long as we’re paying attention.
It begins when three children playing in the woods, when they discover a recently dead Apatosaurus. This strange and surreal incident provides the backdrop for the rest of the book. Although the main characters are affected by this discovery, life for them must go on. There are three other stories intertwined throughout the book: an elderly couple, touched by the tragedy of terminal illness, a young Goth girl trying to fit in at school and in her own family, and a young woman living on her own who makes an elderly friend while walking her dog in the park. Each story is unique, and deals with a different stage of life, and yet all are tied together by their search for meaning in a world gone crazy.
Each character is suffering in some way. Jeanie is a young Goth girl who struggles with bullies at school, and parents and teachers who don’t understand her. She lashes out at her mother and wishes death on her bully, Kaylee. Unfortunately, this wish turns prophetic, as Kaylee is struck down by a meteor and Jeanie is forced to reconsider her own negative attitude toward her situation and the people around her. After decades of faithful marriage, Florence is unable to cope with her husband Murray’s terminal illness, getting upset with him when all he can think about is seeing the dinosaur on a truck as they drive down the highway. Katrina, young and on her own, presumably for the first time, is so impatient with her dog, Lilly, that she drags her around and doesn’t even stop to bag her business. All of them are so focused on their own internal issues that they’ve lost sight of what is important to them.
It takes the kindness of the people around them to remind them what’s truly important in their lives. When Katrina finally stops for a moment in the park, she meets a fellow dog-walker named Thomas who reminds her why dogs are so special: because they appreciate every little moment, such as when they greet you at the door full of enthusiasm even though you’ve only been out for a day. Jeanie, by focusing on her hardships, has forgotten to appreciate the unconditional love her mother has for her, despite their misunderstandings. Murray tries to insist that Florence worry about herself instead of him, and go on living her life and trying to be happy when he’s gone. Each character, despite the vast differences in their situations, experiences a moment of getting lost in the hardships of life. Each must re-learn how to appreciate the little moments again.
It’s these little moments where Kelley’s talents really shine through. The little things, like the scrunched-up face of Thomas’ dog, Boris, or the look on Flo’s face as she stares at a picture of her now-deceased husband, or the smile on Jeanie’s mother’s face as she comforts her beloved child. These moments are simple, but the way Kelley portrays them gives them immense emotional power.
The artwork can take a little getting used to, especially for those of us accustomed to hyper-realistic superhero comics. This is a highly stylized book, almost to the point where, if it weren’t for the consistency, craft and composition skills on display, it would almost seem like sketches in a schoolchild’s notebook. I was put off at first by this, until I realized that this style is actually perfect for this story. Kelley’s sketch-like style immediately evokes a feeling of nostalgia in the reader which enhances the emotional qualities of the story.
Those emotional qualities are what makes “WAIGTDWY?” so powerful. I’ll admit I myself teared-up no less than three times in my first reading, and laughed aloud at least twice! The nostalgia we feel when we read this story brings up our own memories of the happy moments we’ve experienced, driving home the central point of the story: no matter how hard life is at times, there are always moments of beauty, like making a new friend in the park, or experiencing the miracle of finding a dinosaur in the woods, that make life worth all of the pain and struggle it involves.
If you want to experience this feeling for yourself, I highly recommend that you download “What Am I Going To Do Without You?” For $3.99, not only do you get 126 pages of quality cartooning, but you might also shed a few tears and have a few laughs of your own. If you’d like to learn more about Patt Kelley and his book, we’ll be running an interview later on today, so check back with us soon.
Kelley contacted us himself, asking if we’d take a look at his book and consider posting a review of it. Obviously, it worked well for him, so if you too have a book you’d like me to consider for a future installment of “Off the Cape,” feel free to send me an e-mail. You’ll find a link to my Hotmail address in the little author’s bio, below. The only requirements are that it has to be non-superhero material, and be available for purchase now or in the immediate future, whether in print, on the web or through a digital download service. I look forward to hearing from you soon!