R.O. Blechman applies his trademark scribble to the life of Saint Nicholas, who was born a Roman citizen in A.D. 314 and developed a penchant for good works as a child. Blechman's saint is of the earnest, regular-guy variety, and his generosity constantly lands him in trouble. You could imagine him stumbling into a Frank Capra movie. But the goofy illustrations by Blechman keep the proceedings sincere without ever allowing them to get too sugary.
For readers used to seeing Blechman's cartoons in the New Yorker
, it's a delight to see him range across an entire book with his distinctive, minimalist, shaky-lined drawings. While his figures are small and simple (dwarfed by a large, troublesome, usually absurd world), Blechman's wit is grand and sophisticated. Here, in this merry romp of puns and mockery, he relates the story of Saint Nicholas, a tale, he informs us, that can only now be told because an Italian farmer discovered an ancient manuscript while (what else?) digging for truffles. In a hilarious schematic, Blechman presents the manuscript's "travels to its final destination" (Akron, Ohio), a journey that involved a tussle between Sotheby's, the Italian government, and R. Jay Gatchall of J-Mart wealth and fame. This piquancy shapes Blechman's entire rendering of the life of good-hearted St. Nick, from days of childhood miracles to his unexpected (and diabolically clever) transformation into the jolly, red-clad being we dutifully worship at department stores each December. A perfect antidote to the commercialization of the season. Donna Seaman