Scott Morse
Red Window / AdHouse Books ($14.95)

by Adam Hall

Replacing himself with an adorable cartoon tiger in his autobiographical graphic novel Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!, author/artist Scott Morse attempts to reconcile the responsibilities of adulthood with his own vivid and often distracting imagination. In a series of loosely connected anecdotes, Morse recounts, among other things, his anticlimactic stint in jury duty, being accosted by a homeless woman on the street, and his encounter with a child who casts his son (represented by a smaller tiger) a hateful glance on the playground. In constant search of the everyday wonder of modern life, Morse’s evocative and stylistically fluid blend of watercolor and ink morphs with the tonal shifts of each story, by turns recalling Chuck Jones, Will Eisner, Calvin and Hobbes, and even a color palette similar to Ezra Jack Keats’s.

Morse subtitles Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! “A Collection of Scattered Thoughts and Moments That Somehow Equal a Whole,” and while the scattered thoughts do offer a certain amount of poignancy when taken alone, the whole feels somewhat slight. It might seem unfair to chastise a book so playful and endearing for lacking focus when the author himself admits within its pages that “mentally, he tends to drift off,” but the absence of a central unifying idea and the casual flitting from anecdote to anecdote makes this volume read like a series of journal entries in a particularly vivid sketchbook rather than a complete work. Moreover, Morse’s verbosity tends to clutter the book, especially when large blocks of text invade the artwork and undermine the images. In the encounter with the child who scorns his son, for example, Morse’s tiger avatar mottles and distorts with rage, only to disintegrate into an ashen outline as the anger loses its hold. Yet the clunky pontification Morse inserts (“How do you qualify your good intentions when your most prominent instinct is rage? When the best answer seems to be, ironically, the most parallel?”) is directly at odds with the stark portrayal of this transformation—one of many missed opportunities to let the beauty of his artwork do the heavy lifting.

Still, the stories Morse presents here are treated with an earnestness and open-eyed wonder that prove infectious. Regarding autobiographical comics, critic Steven Grant once wrote: “They work best in short form highlighting some specific anecdote, because most people's lives are just nowhere near as interesting as they think they are.” While harsh, the statement rings quite true in a time when many comics are praised simply because they offer alternatives to the glut of superhero fare. Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! proves Grant’s assertion insofar as the specific anecdotes it recounts elevate the mundane with dreamlike renderings. What will truly set the series apart in future volumes is if Morse can let his pictures do more of the talking.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2009 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2009