American Elf

, the comic strip, is over. James Kochalka wrote and drew it from October 26, 1998, to the end of this past year.

An appreciation in 14 grafs:

The strip begins in black and white. Kochalka is popular. He is neurotic. He has clutter on his desk and on the floor. His anxiety gives him an insight into the things around him. He drives it through our eyes.

Kochalka is a musician. That his wife is practical allows him to lay dreams upon his day. It stirs up emotion: laughter for his joke, pity for believing it could be true. That a narcissist would not want a child is normal. Age will work upon him.

Here he copes quietly with our madness. One great thing about a daily project is it lets him not have to mention why. His strips in the wake of 9/11 are worth your time.

In 2002 the strip becomes color. This is one of the best of his long run. Four panels encapsulate a day. It is a type of day only the thoughtful live. Though the elements control us, we press on with what we set for ourselves.

The art keeps getting better. Kochalka experiments with color, developing a wonderful palette for AE. This is a touching moment, but it’s a troubling indicator for the character that’s given the strip its writerly spark.

Kolchaka fought the perception that AE was becoming a cute-baby strip, but the evidence is there. Even in strips where the kids don’t appear, Family Circus parallels are rearing.

"My family my family my family,” thinks Kochalka. His portrayal of the wonder in the quotidien is focused only on his family. This is normal. Our interest wavers.

The edge to the strip returns when drug dealers move in next door. Kochalka has a child. Over the course of 2006 he fights the neighbors how he can. Something’s up, they know it. These strips are being published daily. He is known in his community. Many are the strips where strangers will comment on something very personal to Kochalka, because they read what he has drawn about it. We imagine the dealers getting wind of what their neighbor has been saying about them.

This year Kochalka changed the way he drew his character. In real life he is going bald. His new portrait is uglier. In the strip, his children are cute even when they’re bratty. His children are cute even when they’re bratty. He continues with his ugly side, here as a self-important egoist.

His art moves closer to the nature he so loves. His line absorbs its beauty. Snow can be the hardest thing to draw. His is effortless. How well these pale colors, suggesting winter and cold, drift together. His cartooning is expressive. And here his writing is sharp. Contrasted with the proud-parent strips, a portrayal of his marriage. His wife must raise a bigger family than she knew.

It’s the son who has a fever, but it’s the father who needs care. Such things are taken and received. This is a family truth. But contrast Kochalka’s unflattering capture to the early strips above. See what has gone missing. He doesn’t look for the deeper truth of life. He’s content with what is in the incident. Also gone is the unexpected turn.

None can fault his dedication. Peanuts underlined the nature of a strip: how the gems grow scattered as the years pile upon.

Though he’s lost the patience for backgrounds, the strip is well colored and well drawn. What is the cause for the missing thought and spark? We wonder if it’s the influence of his children. A child-like man, spending much of his time with his children, becomes more like a child? As a person, he is happier.

A bit of the old edge returns when a family tragedy hits. After a long illness, his father passes away. Kochalka confronts the regrets of grief fearlessly. That first panel is absolutely haunting. It is shocking because in the month before, in the strips dealing with his loss, Kochalka never draws his dead father. To see him here then, past a calming distance, is nearly as powerful as the guilt Kochalka carries.

.

In the wake of this, and the false apocalypse, and the underwhelming response to his new cartoon, and his children getting bigger, Kochalka does what he has talked about over the years: he ends his cartoon strip. I expect that he will take it up again.

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Index

Aichinger
Ghosts on the Lake

Allen
Midnight in Paris  To Rome With Love

Art
Art Over Subject  What Art Gives Us  Shakespeare Was One Guy  Why They Wrote

de Assis
The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas

Auster
Ghosts

Beckett
Footfalls  Ohio Impromptu  Come and Go  The Expelled

Beirut
Live

Bernhardt
Sarah Bernhardt

Bird
The Happy Birthday Song

Campanella
The Secret in Their Eyes

Camus
The Fall

Cliffs Notes
Ulysses

Coupland
Player One

Cronenberg
A Dangerous Method  Cosmopolis

Dover Thrift Editions
The Dover Thrift Edition Awards

Dutourd
Pluche, or The Love of Art  A Dog's Head  The Man of Sensibility

Fassbinder
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Fellini
Fellini on Fellini

Fo
About Face

Ford
The Hurricane

Freud
Sigmund Freud Novelist and Comedian

Froissart
Chronicles

Glass
Naqoyqatsi

Gray
Poor Things

Hallström
My Life as a Dog

Harrison
Living in the Material World  You (demo)

Hemingway
Life and Art of

Herzog
Herzog and Lynch

Houellebecq
Public Enemies

Jagger/Richards
Let It Loose

Joyce
Art Over Subject

Kochalka
American Elf

Konkka
A Fool's Paradise

Leigh
All or Nothing

Lennon/McCartney
Birthday

Lessing
The Four-Gated City  Shikasta  The Sentimental Agents

Lévy
Public Enemies

Lewis and Clark
The Journals of Lewis and Clark

Lonergan
Margaret

Lispector
Miss Algrave

Lynch
Herzog and Lynch

Majewski
The Mill and the Cross

Malamud
A New Life

Morrison
At the National Book Fest

OED
OED

Pamuk
The Museum of Innocence

Pereira
How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman

Pinter
The Birthday Party

Pirandello
Six Characters in Search of an Author

Richter
Gerhard Richter Painting

Rushdie
Joseph Anton

Saramago
The Elephant's Journey  The Stone Raft

Scorsese
Living in the Material World

Senna
Senna

Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night's Dream  All's Well That Ends Well  Antony and Cleopatra  The Comedy of Errors  Coriolanus  Cymbeline  Hamlet  Julius Caesar  King Henry IV Part 1  King Henry IV Part 2  The Life of Henry the Fift  King Henry VI Part 1  King Henry VI Part 2  King Henry VI Part 3  King Henry VIII  King Lear  King Richard II  King Richard III  The Life and Death of King John  Love's Labour's Lost  Macbeth  Measure for Measure  The Merchant of Venice  The Merry Wives of Windsor  Much Ado About Nothing  Othello  Pericles, Prince of Tyre   Romeo and Juliet  The Taming of the Shrew  The Tempest  Timon of Athens  Titus Andronicus  Troilus and Cressida  Twelfth Night  The Two Gentlemen of Verona  The Two Noble Kinsmen  The Winter's Tale

Souder
The Brasilia Review  My Novel  3 Quarks Daily Arts & Lit Prize Nomination  Missouri Review Contest 1  Missouri Review Contest 2  Book Republic Selection

Razlog  Levinson 3  Levinson 2  Levinson 1  Tyrol  Petit Jean  Race  Holly G.  Prevent Somebody  Mississippi  Rain in the Cafe  Kentucky River  Paris  Montreal  Big Island  Lyon  Colorado  Oahu  Weimar  Newborn Artistry  Calis  Inmost Stares  How Obvious  David Attenborough  Philosophy 1  Marcos and the Maniacs  The Pantanal  Aught-tober  Drywall  Banned  The River North  Saul Birmingham  Broken Neck  The Indian  Viable One  Polly  The Sign  Acabou  Cloven  Russ and I  Money Talks  The Top of Bud's Skull  Pik  Oh Bud  Lizards  I Bud  A Scorpion  Freddy O'Clare  A New Cartoon Short  The Weiner Platz Affair  Help, Coach  The People's Voice  The Glitch  SE Asia  Labels  Oh Geri  Gehargehunk  The Geologist  Gordon Morgan  The Unified Team  Gymn Was a Spy  True Crime  Stonehenge  Fishing  Ricky the River  Aspirin  Two Messa Jo's  The Feeling of Being Hit  The Prioress  Harz Roller  Cardinal Ordinal  Bacterium Is Unrelated  When Sheryl Was Little  Hey Guys  Lads, Lasses  Jevon Had a Sad Face  Recipe for Attracting Aliens  This Mess  The HMS Colophon  I've Got a Song  The Elephants  The Trouble with the Fire Station  The Right Family  Faladabad  24 Hoof Prints  The Future  Back to the Meat World  The Pebble Gelsomina Kept  Excerpt

Hope Brings Sleep  Pelo Amor de Deus

Stillman
Damsels in Distress

Tournier
Friday, or The Other Island

Toussaint
Self Portrait Abroad

Tropicália
Tropicália  Uma Noite em 67  Domingo no Parque

Truffaut
Stolen Kisses

Van Patten
The Work of

Vonnegut
While Mortals Sleep

Wallace
What Art Gives Us

Welles
Four Men on a Raft

Yan
One Mo Time