, 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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