Dry, droll observations from the author’s childhood, with an undercurrent of understated sadness.
This could have been titled “Portrait of the Humorist as a Young Child,” though New Yorker cartoonist Kaplan (I Love You, I Hate You, I’m Hungry, 2010, etc.) doesn’t try too hard to be too funny. It also doesn’t fit the conventions of the graphic memoir, since it has a textual format with frequent, generally small, drawings rather than cartoon panels with words. In addition to his magazine work, the author has also shown his comic sensibility as a TV screenwriter (Girls, Seinfeld), and screens small and large are more prominent throughout these pages than any memories of development as an artist. “As I guess is obvious, I loved TV,” he writes. “I wanted to crawl in the TV and stay there permanently. I guess in a way when I grew up and became a TV writer, I finally did.” The fact that entertainment plays such a formative role in Kaplan’s life suggests how emotionally impoverished he found his family. His mother was “discombobulated” by the strains of raising three boys, while his father went off to work, his own ambitions of becoming a writer thwarted by the demands of supporting a family. The whole family seemed to make do, letting broken things remain that way, enduring their lives rather than particularly enjoying them. The author’s parents never had visitors to the house except for a neighboring couple on New Year’s Eve, when they would “bring out the plastic champagne glasses. I got Cheez-Its on New Year’s Eve. Cheez-Its represented total, utter wild abandon.” Readers of a similar background will find that these memories strike a responsive chord, along with the desire to find something less stultifying.
Childhood memories dominate, but the last years of his parents bring to the fore the melancholy that has been there all along.