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Paul Madonna takes a one-panel comic and turns the punch line into poetry. The images are of rooftops, power lines and buildings. These urban landscapes are ink washed in a sepia tone with a charming, careful whimsy.

The text reads like fragments of overheard conversion. Exploring the expanse between mundane every day talk to tiny profound moments of revelation. There are no speech bubbles in Madonna’s work. There are no people. The words float over the scenic snapshots.

All Over Coffee is laid out like a hardcover calendar. It takes time for your eyes to wander the large cityscapes. I am reminded of Italian graphic novelist Gipi’s quiet moments. The ones where he is just setting the scene, an All Over Coffee seems to do just that. Set the scene.

The absence of people in the frame allows you to paint the people into the situation. Attaching the text to imaginary people, building a beginning and end around the middle that is presented. As a result each comic demands time and space for invention as well as contemplation, as you make your own connections between the text and the image.

All Over Coffee has run in the San Francisco Chronicle since Feb 2004 and readers either love it or hate it. I wasn’t sure which side of the fence I’d be on, but when the book arrived it was beautiful to behold.

Although not every piece is a gem, there are by far more hits than misses in this collection. I was excited to explore each page, to notice the tiny splashes of colour and to take the time to see where the text would take my thoughts. A refreshing and intelligent subversion of the daily comic strip. (S Malik)

by Paul Madonna, $24.95,173 pgs, City Lights Books, 261 Columbus Ave. San Francisco, CA 94133,

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