It’s easy to boil down this comic and simply say that it’s about a recently graduated art student that is attempting to find his place in the world. It’s easy to say that because at its simplest that’s what it is, but really it’s about the creative process, dealing with emotions, feelings of inadequacy and strangely enough… love. It’s a very personal graphic novel and I’m sure that it took an incredible amount of strength and courage to share it with the rest of the world, but I’m glad that creator Dino Pai did because I found it very inspirational.
You could in a way call this tale an autobiography, if you removed the fantasy elements from the story. This is due to the fact that our main character is our author, Dino. The story opens with him waking up from his drawing table and simply ordering some food and eating. We see him playing some video games, working out, listening to music and even playing with Goku and a model plane. You can see the creative block that Dino has just on his face, but all of these elements are common when trying to create something. Dino begins staring intently at a poster of a beautiful woman hanging on his wall and suddenly has something worth putting down on paper. He begins writing a letter that begins, “Dear Beloved Stranger” and this letter serves as our narration and look inside of Dino’s mind. Unfortunately, he doesn’t finish the letter because he runs out of ink. That’s right; he’s using real ink from a jar which is the best kind. He heads to an art store and begins acting strangely once inside, almost as if he’s avoiding the girl behind the checkout counter. He grabs his ink and heads to the counter and the girl greets him by his first name and him with hers… Cathy.
They chat for a bit and it becomes clear that they know each other from school. She mentions the success of one of their friends and as she asks about what he’s working on he rushes out of the store. He finishes his letter back at home and folds it up into a plane and throws it out of his New York apartment building. We watch the letter land until it’s stepped on, but interestingly enough Cathy finds it. She reads the letter and folds the plane back up and sends it back on its way after telling it, “Don’t give up just yet.”
Later we find Cathy at the art show that she had mentioned to Dino and sure enough he’s there too. She talks to him for a bit and in a way answers his letter without giving him cause for alarm. She essentially gives him advice without bringing up the fact the she knows he’s looking for some, but Dino skips out again as she’s talking to him. Her words reached him though as he begins working on a comic book project about a boy trapped in a room and only knows the light of day. The boy looks like a puppet version of Dino and soon his adventures begin to fill in more sections of our story while transitioning back to Dino in the real world and then at one point completely overlapping.
The story really becomes less and less transparent as you read it, which is quite the departure from traditional storytelling. Sure a few things become clear, but overall Dino uses the mixture of the comic we’re reading and the comic his character is creating to create a metaphor of the journey he’s sharing with us. It’s actually very difficult for me to be cut and dry with it and perhaps I’m looking too deeply in it and have been swallowed by the abyss. For me though, I clung to every word and did my best to piece together the different elements that made up the story and found the journey very rewarding. The metaphors where rich and when the two sides of the story mixed together it was both stunning and wonderful.
What I absolutely loved about this book was the art. The layouts and the creative ways that the narrative was shown are frankly brilliant. Dino actually sends off the letter and the subsequently the ones that follow, long before we’re done reading them. As he sends them out as a paper airplane though we continue to read the words as they’re spread across the plane and as we follow the plane the text continues to change. It’s a clever idea that really pays off as it takes something simple and makes it very interesting. Another reason I found the art so fantastic is because of the way Dino draws shoes. It may sound strange, but there is a sequence in which Dino is taking off his shoes by using only his feet and it was probably one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever seen in a comic. It was so realistic looking that I ran my eyes over the sequence again and again. I would rather look at something like that in comics then see a superhero busting through a wall for the trillionth time. The art for the comic and also the comic within the comic are both beautiful and show a range in Dino’s talent as well.
I had some questions at the end of this book, but that’s because the answers weren’t given to me. I don’t know if Dino and Cathy were every interested in each other or if their relationship was simply friends and nothing more. I don’t know what happened in the two year gap where Dino moved from New York back home to Vancouver and frankly I’m not looking for those answers. That would ruin the one thing that I brought to the table in all of this… my imagination. So often we forget that our comic books aren’t supposed to hand us all the answers and wrap everything up in a bow, we’re the “X” factor the thing that truly makes the story come to life. I would highly recommend you check this book out and become one of Dino’s beloved strangers.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Dino Pai
Publisher: Urban-FairyTales.com or you can buy it from Top Shelf Comics
Release Date: January 2013