‘Sweaterweather and Other Short Stories:’ Graphic Novel Review

Sweaterweather and Other Short Stories is a reissue of a 2003 publication by Sara Varon (by much the same name) with the addition of new stories, journal entries, and essays.  Each story is accompanied by a conversational blurb with background on the genesis of the story idea, the evolution of the illustration and characters, and discussion of her experiments with various artistic techniques.  Im completely new to Sara Varons work and was so pleased to have such a personal introduction to her artistic process.

I read Sweaterweather this week while sheltering indoors during the first of the El Nino rainstorms to hit Los Angeles.  (In Southern California terms, this amount of weather is equivalent to a level five nor’easter blizzard.)  As my sun-soaked, drought-weakened body shivered slightly in a Starbucks where the air conditioning was inexplicably running, I delighted in Varons opening story, “Turtle and Rabbit Comic.”  An amicable rabbit and turtle, journeying through a snowstorm together, magically take shelter in the turtles shell.  They drink a little tea, the rabbit knits himself a scarf and a hat for the turtle, and they continue on their way.  Utterly charming.

Varon
s straightforward and simple visual style is immediately apparent and continues on through other delightful stories like “The Pool,” in which a couple of friends build an indoor pool and invite the neighboring sea creatures to visit, and “The Flight,” featuring a cat with flight envy who befriends a group of pigeons and realizes his loftiest dreams.  Varon fleshes out a robust list of narratives with instructional diagrams (“Bee Comic”), interactive artwork (“Paper Dolls!”), personal essays about her life as an artists, and interviews with artist contemporaries.

The narratives are quick and told primarily through illustration; dialogue is frequently non-existent or expressed in visual images.  Many of the characters are pulled from a gallery of anthropomorphic animals.  Humans are also regularly featured, and I was interested to note that Varon frequently envisions herself as one or more of the characters in a story, both animal and human.  Additionally, Varon’s human characters are delightfully open in terms of personal attributes; any reader can easily imprint the story with their own individual detail.

These stories are a call back to simpler themes and pleasures.  They highlight everyday seemingly mundane activities and emphasize easy companionship.  Varon has an obvious love for nature that permeates all of the stories but frequently portrays nature in an easy partnership with urban environments.

I found Varon’s work to be very meditative.  Everything about her style and subject matter puts the reader in a quiet, focused mindset.  The quality of the illustration and narrative is deceptively simple, inviting the reader to read the stories over and over for new doses of this charming and whimsical world.  This is a book with high appeal for animal lovers, creative professionals, kids, adults . . . the list goes on and on.

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