Mid-Life by Joe Ollmann

Mid-Life
by Joe Ollmann
Drawn & Quarterly, 2011

A devastatingly honest and ambiguously autobiographical story of two very unhappy people: John, a magazine designer who has hit forty with a graceless thump (with two adult daughters, an energetic second wife, a new baby, and more baggage than Woody Allen), and Sherri, a singer-songwriter who compromised her artistic integrity some time ago by becoming a children’s entertainer, on the verge of success she’s not even sure she wants. It’s a bit like the obscure British comedy Love Soup, except in this story the two eventually meet, with disastrous yet life-affirming results.

John discovers Sherri’s latest children’s DVD (Sherri Smalls and Her Big Band: Completely Bananas), seeks out her sole ‘adult’ album, and becomes infatuated with her – he contacts her, requesting an interview for his magazine, and catches her at a moment of vulnerability after her obnoxious ex (a massive liability who stars in her show as a monkey) has been busted – in his costume. Sherri responds to John’s clumsy overtures with an enthusiasm which sends him into a spiral of self-loathing – his midlife crisis is leading him to risk everything, and she’s more lonely than she’d care to admit. This lonely-single-woman trope unfortunately overshadows the more interesting aspects of her character, the concept of achieving grown-up success by selling out your basic artistic principles, and although John (as an author avatar) is afforded long incisive rants on the pitfalls of aging, there isn’t as much insight for Sherri.

The artwork is gratifying dense, like an alternative ’90s comic, and John’s premature wrinkles and blotches are lovingly detailed. The endpapers feature aspects of John’s life; his sagging pectorals and an assortment of cheap domestic whiskey. On the same page thanking the Canada Book Fund and Canada Council for their financial support there’s an acerbic cartoon summary of the entire book: “I’m old and have so many children… BWAAAAH! Ooooh, girls don’t notice me ’cause I’m OLD!” with the annotation “This stuff is GOLD!” Surprisingly, it all has a happy ending.

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