Old Man WinterBy J. T. Yost
Below: Cover artwork to Old Man Winter. Click to enlarge.
Review: Old Man Winter By J. T. Yost
Square-bound, 56 pages black and white
Published by Birdcage Bottom Books 2009
$6.95 (USD) retail price.
This anthology collection of comics by J. T. Yost contains previously printed material plus the new "Old Man Winter" which heads up the contents.
"The old man is always cold..."
In the 25-page title story leading off this book, Yost uses large, expansive panels (and a number of full page panels) to show the urban environment and experience of an old man dealing with a younger, colder world.
Click to enlarge.
Never identified by name, the Old Man of the story is observed going through his day, dealing with clerks at the art supply store, winding his way through a grubby city, and being confronted by an angry daughter. She plans to ship the old fellow off to a retirement facility (presumably; it's not explained where he is supposed to be moving to), much to the chagrin of the guy who is caught in a dream of remembering his deceased wife as if she was nearly alive and not quite dead, a middle-ground of grief which seems peaceful enough for him, but causes his daughter (and one of the art supply clerks) to puncture the illusion.
He is a gentle old guy who has to deal with a sharper-edged world that has little respect for the elderly. Of course, the ageless younger people around the Old Man who treat him like he is not really part of their "real world" are all headed directly for the same state of age and vulnerability.
When Jay, the art supply store clerk tells him "Say hi to the wife for me," Jay is aware the woman is dead, earning a sidelong glance from the old guy as he leaves the store. The statement is ironic, considering how the story will end, but the main perspective in the tale is both how strong is the memory of love, and the blind cruelty of youth.
"Winter Sale" page panel from Old Man Winter. Click to Enlarge.
Yost uses other things to communicate how cold it really is for the Old Man. As he moves through the city there are signs: "Iced Coffee," "Winter Sale," and patches of ice. The final image at the end of the tale is the Old Man's beloved ash tray, a souvenir of his deceased wife, now outside near a black garbage bag, ready for collection.
The scenario seems like something right out of Tatsumi, where a trapped urban man is assaulted by an uncaring world, and is finally driven down to madness or suicide. But Yost's title character isn't going mad nor does he have any of the fear and tremors of a Tatsumi protagonist. Instead, the old fellow has to put up with the weight of an uncaring world, though it doesn't seem to be an overwhelming task, and in Yost's handling of the situation, it's not just the pigeons that fly free in the city.
Two friends torment the family of a third friend, mostly as a lark, partially as a project to see just how far they can go (which in fact is not very far at all). They leave a typed message demanding payment for unnamed "services," and tape various objects to the home of "Sanjay's" family, which following the prank of leaving a fireplace log atop the automobile of the father, leads to interpretations by the local police that they're being stalked.
The situation seems like it could easily veer out of control, and it is not hard to see why the family is genuinely frightened. Instead, Yost is making some kind of confession of the ridiculous prank which he brushes off rather easily, for it was all meant in fun.
Though this book is made up of separate tales that span a number of years, "Logging Sanjay" neatly dove-tails with the themes of "Old Man Winter," with unintended cruelty and a general lack of awareness by people either too young or too self-involved to realize the effects of what they're doing.
"Logging Sanjay," Click page image to enlarge.
"Logging Sanjay" is a light-hearted story altogether. The darkness it exudes comes from its juxtaposition with these other stories by Yost in the "Old Man Winter" collection.
All Is Forgiven
"All is Forgiven" documents a brief vignette in the life of an animal research scientist. In four pages Yost shows the alienated life of the scientist, his passage through a city with film posters advertising zombie and violent stories for entertainment adding to the poignancy of his (and the animals) lifes. Returning to his home the unnamed scientist is confronted with the dissolution of his marriage (or a romance). He is then seen lying sleeplessly in bed, finally to return to his laboratory where he opens all of the animal cages.
The plight of the animals is depicted wordlessly, and it is a brutal place where they suffer to enable research into (presumably) better medicines. Is cruelty worthwhile? None of that is questioned here, it only just "is" and that is where the scientist dwells.
The only partially seen "Dear John" letter from a departed lover is all that hints at some situation beyond the scope of the four page tale. Is the letter saying the man 'needs help' ? I cannot tell. Is he just a rejected man? Does he deserve his situation? Is the world just cruel?
J. T. Yost
Original page August 20, 2009 | Updated Oct 2012