Sunnyville Stories Volume 3 Kindle Edition
|Length: 206 pages|
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Readers hoping for Sonic Hedgehog settle for Rusty Duncan—silver tabby, stuck in a town so small residents have to drive to the nearest city for a video arcade, movie or choice of restaurants. Pigs, foxes, rabbits and woody woodpeckers get along, which is better than the Baptists and the Catholics did in the small town where I grew up (not to mention the… never mind).
Rusty's the poor kid who's best friends with Samantha McGregor, the town's rich girl (think Archie and Veronica with no Betty to come between them). Nor does he notice Sam's obvious attraction. In this volume readers also discover that Rusty's mom dropped out of high school, and that there's an educational gap between the Duncans and the McGregors as well.
Sunnyville Stories Volume 3 unfolds in four stories wrapped between two confrontations involving Rusty and his mom. In the first, Rusty fails a math test send his mother off the deep end because he isn't serious about his studies, and in the last Rusty decides to go to art school sending his mother off the deep end again because she expects him to become a doctor.
In the meantime, the town's restaurant owner suffers a crisis of conscious when his new chef proves to be more popular than he was. The general store manager's wife runs off to meet the drummer from an indie band because she thinks her husband doesn't love her.
West plays Sunnyville Stories for laughs, but the huge laughs he delivered in volume 2 don't show up this time around. Max settles for small jokes, evenly paced to break up the more serious pace of stories that cut closer to the heart than in his past volumes. These stories turn on mistaken identity and self-doubt, with family histories tearing them apart and members having to find ways to reconcile.
Some readers will like 3 better, I think Max is still working to find his voice and this volume makes several steps forward in consistency, but loses a some of the huge belly laughs he showed a talent for in volume 2. I also got the feeling that Rusty, if not West, was finally working through some unresolved mother issues that inevitably spill from the writer's pen (none of which I suffer from, my father issues fill my Fruedian bank).
Even as I say this, I acknowledge that it's tough to be both artist and storyteller. With time I believe Max will learn to pace his stories, learn to alternate slapstick and word play stories with heartstring stories and learn to string jokes through the storyline better too.
His drawing style will evolve too, but don't expect more complexity. His stark simplicity makes Sunnyville the comic it is, a simple story about a simple town with simple people. Lake Wobegon, as it were. And no one ever criticized Keillor for his homespun tales (not out loud anyway).
Phillip T. Stephens is the author of "Cigerets, Guns & Beer," "Raising Hell" and the new release "Seeing Jesus."
In Episode 8: Make the Grade, we see Rusty’s mother take center stage. Max shows us the range and depth of his characters in this volume. This story is not really about the cheerful melancholy atmosphere that we are used to seeing in Sunnyville, we get to see behind closed doors and see the character flaws of Rusty’s mother and how she takes Rusty’s actions as a personal affront to her own social standings.
We ultimately find out about Rusty’s mother’s history with academics as well as her own childhood and while this chapter seems wrapped up in a little bow of sitcom reality with some sage words from Rusty’s father at the end, Max takes the story line and continues it in chapter 9.
The trauma of having one’s self worth as only seen as your standing in public is not an issue that could be resolved in a single 33 page comic, that would never work in real life and it doesn’t work that way in Sunnyville. Max shows us the microcosm of the world in Sunnyville and that means warts and all.
In chapter 9 Rusty’s mom is once again flying off the handle in an emotional spin. In this story we are introduced to the Japanese family in Sunnyville who run the Banzai Grill. The story focus’s more on Goro TaNuki and his family. Goro is an immigrant who learned to cook at his mother’s knee and worked hard to come to Sunnyville and open his restaurant. His nephew Goemon, who recently graduated from culinary school comes to stay with them and work at the grill.
It is the age old story of the new competing with the old, and ultimately overtaking the master, the student becomes the old master for the next generation. This is a story about transition, the transition of time and tradition to progress. The world changes and we must all adapt to it or wallow in self pity about a world that has passed us by. In this case there is a positive resolution as Goro learns to accept his nephew and his new style and learns that he was the inspiration for Goemon all along.
In episode 10 Max introduces us to the Talbot of Frieda and Matthew. In this tale we see a couple which has sort of let life get in the way of living and a little misunderstanding brings their focus in life back to clarity. There are a lot of cameos and inside jokes in this adventure, so keep your eyes peeled for special appearances.
In the final chapter Episode 11; The Artful Dodger we come full circle and once again go into the relationship between Rusty and his mother. When Rusty takes and interest in art and announces that he would like to attend art school, his mother once again goes off about her standing in public and what this will mean to her. I think Max is trying to show a mixture of a woman who sees in her child all the missed opportunities that she herself never pursued as well as having the neurosis of having been brought up that way herself. Rusty’s mother has developed into one of the most complex characters in Sunnyville Stories and her relationship with Rusty will continue to be explored in further episodes as she comes to terms with herself and letting go as a parent.
This volume of Sunnyville Stories has really raised the bar for Max as his art as well as his storytelling abilities has improved dramatically while still keeping the simple humor of puns and gags to tackle serious issues. His style is more of an artful storyteller rather than preaching morality. His characters develop their own sense of moral continuity rather than just being typical stereotypes. His established characters are used to bring this whole world together rather than just focusing on them to exclusion of everything else, and in that Max West is in the process of creating a world inhabited by many characters not just the two lead characters in the series. If you want a graphic novel that goes above and beyond the standard superhero or gag a day fare then check out Sunnyville Stories