Off Season HC
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Release Date: January 23. 2019
Price: $24.95
Creator: James Sturm
Format: 216 pgs., Limited Color, 8.2"x6.2", Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-7704-6331-8
Age Rating: N/A
ICv2 Rating: 5 Stars out of 5

Set in fall and winter of 2016, Off Season tells the story of a foundering marriage in a series of vignettes, seen from the husband’s point of view.  Published in landscape format, it seems, quite literally, like postcards from the end of a marriage.

Mark, the main character, still loves his estranged wife, Lisa, but the conflicts between them run deep.  Lisa comes from money, and Mark is acutely aware of this: a contractor, he has had to sell his truck and work for others because of the separation.  His current boss is a shady contractor who is always one excuse away from paying him.  Mark and Lisa share custody of their two children, and he struggles to take care of the children’s practical and emotional needs while dealing with his own disorientation and sadness.

Sturm seamlessly blends the political events of that off season into the story, sharpening the emotions of the characters as they deal with personal and political loss.  The marriage splinters in the wake of Bernie Sanders’s failed primary bid, Mark’s daughter talks about Hillary Clinton on the car ride home from school, and Mark’s deadbeat boss drives a BMW with a Bernie sticker.  Yet Sturm goes beyond the name and slogans and looks at what each candidate means, or doesn’t mean, to ordinary people.

The bleakness of the characters’ personal and political lives is emphasized by the sole color Sturm uses in the book, a chilly slate gray.  Everything from construction sites to Christmas dinner is rendered in the same monochrome, which keeps the book emotionally as well as chromatically cool.  The characters are depicted as dogs, or really, humans with the heads of dogs, a conceit that Sturm turns on itself a few times in the story, when they wear animal masks.

If all this makes Off Season sound unbearably arty, well, it’s not.  Each scene rings true: The smarmy boss’s excuses, the arguments between Mark and Lisa, the way an exhausted child slumps on his father’s shoulder, the sudden warmth of stepping into someone else’s crowded but cheery household.  No one is perfect, no one is terrible (except Mark’s boss), and the story ends on a quiet note of hope.

Off Season is a graphic novel that reads like a novel, and it is likely to appeal to fans of storytellers such as Craig Thompson, Jeff Lemire, Lucy Knisley, and Rutu Modan.  It’s a quiet book with a lot to say, the sort of book that reveals more depth with each re-reading, and is particularly rewarding for the thoughtful reader who likes to savor a book again and again.

--Brigid Alverson