Mid-Life opens with the following disclaimer: “This is largely a work of fiction. Except where it isn’t.” With this, writer-illustrator Joe Ollmann sets the atmosphere for his heavily anticipated first full-length release. The majority of the story follows John, loosely or largely based on Ollmann himself. He’s a middle-aged man, reliving the early days of parenthood, who spends almost the entirety of the narrative grumbling about his life. In the interludes between John’s griping we are told a second narrative about Sherri, a children’s singer who once had a shot at ’90s grrrl rock stardom. Lacking John’s self-loathing, half-mocking commentary, her narrative has a slightly less depressing edge. Yet all this clever character development fails to engage as both characters prominently showcase how utterly privileged they are, with seemingly endless amounts of time to complain.
Comparable to other D&Q regulars such as Adrian Tomine and Seth, Ollmann’s work shifts between satire and self-deprecation. But what’s overshadowed by this approach is the humour Ollmann might have served up instead. All 172 pages of Mid-Life are composed of nine-panel grids, with each panel heavily inked and lettered. Rather than his narrative and illustrations working in tandem, Ollmann’s plot is enhanced by caricature – indicative of his traditional cartoonist style. While Ollmann has branched out from collections of shorter cartoon strips to full-length book, his style remains the same.
By the end, Ollmann’s dry, honest and in-your-face tone allows us to laugh at his characters’ misfortunes and mistakes. He might even succeed at compelling the reader to laugh at her own. His narrative carries beyond his graphic novel and onto his blog (wagpress.blogspot.com) where he sometimes, regularly, or never posts about the continuing hilarity of his (John’s) life. (Shannon Winterstein)
Joe Ollmann, 172 pgs, Drawn & Quarterly, drawnandquarterly.com, $20.95