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Sweaterweather: & Other Short Stories Hardcover – February 2, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-A rerelease of Varon's first work, a 2003 comics collection, with new stories added. Varon has penned introductions to each tale that give readers a glimpse into her creative process, including the backstory behind her popular 2007 graphic novel, Robot Dreams (First Second). Varon charms readers in the way that only she can, with her beautifully drawn two-color tales of a s'more-stealing (yet repentant) raccoon and sweltering dinosaurs who cool off with a visit to the ice cream truck as well as informational and exquisitely detailed depictions of beekeeping and the Mexico City subway system. She also treats readers to some fun Easter eggs-a tiny flier bound into the book's pages and an intricate paper doll set. The selections' introductions and a few of the pieces themselves may hold more appeal for adults than children due to their mature (but certainly not inappropriate) themes, but that won't detract from the delight this collection will give to a wide range of graphic novel lovers. VERDICT A highly recommended purchase for fans of Varon's previous works and for lovers of offbeat, big-hearted comics.-Laura Lintz, Henrietta Public Library, Rochester, NYα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
"Varon's characters, their sheepish expressions, and their animated conversations are unfailingly delightful, while flashes of graphic inventiveness―a fake flyer bound into the book, a set of carefully engineered paper dolls―are icing on the cake." ―Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Varon shows a knack for both verbal and visual storytelling." ―Kirkus Reviews
"A cozy collection with something for all ages." ―Booklist
"Varon fans will be fascinated by all the insider information, and developing artists will appreciate the range of styles, materials, color choices (especially the insight on how single colors can carry a whole story) and the sense of developing craft over the decade or so this book covers." ―The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"A highly recommended purchase for fans of Varon’s previous works and for lovers of offbeat, big-hearted comics." ―School Library Journal
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Top Customer Reviews
Normally, I’m not predisposed to anthropomorphic comics. It takes certain panache to pull off being a rarity and almost a retro look in the modern comic’s industry; and Sara Varon pulls it off with a touch more flair, with her eccentrically drawn creatures and people. Sweaterweather & Other Stories (hereafter Sweaterweather) is a diary in the life of Varon as an artist. The stories encompass more than a decade of mini-comics and other curios and are a delight to read. The chronology isn’t perfect but in the context of the whole it works and works well. Chronicling her rise to an independent full-time illustrator, Sweaterweather is a rare glimpse into the process of the artist’s mind at work, both reflective and introspective – a rare treat in today’s age of graphic novels.
The graphic novel is a collection of vignettes, short strips of comics that convey a beginning, middle and end. Taken from various points in her career, this collection of “shorts” run the gamut of boxing matches, the secrets of how to urban farm bees, and even a jab at clueless book reviewers. With the primary characters being animals, the reader is lured into the story and its deeper meaning to the work (if at all there is one). Some stories are ambivalent and trite, simply being for the sake of artistic expression, others are more proliferous such as the bee story, in which Varon exposes her interest in urban breeding, and at length describes the inner workings of the beehive and urban beekeeping. In her epilogue, so to speak, we find the artist bare, revealing her hopes and fears about life as strictly doing art – without the benefit of a “day job.”
Graduating from a fine arts college, Varon is classically trained (as seen briefly in a portrait in her “5 day comic strip”) and to discard realism for the phantasmagoria that the art in Sweaterweather, is a remarkable achievement. All types of animals are depicted, and each carries their own weight in stylistic independence. The composition of the frames, working off the “six panel grid” of more traditional comics, is fluid as the eye picks out the important details in each story and weighs them against other elements in the scene. Although some might call the drawing style “juvenile,” it takes an impressive amount of skill to pull this style off with the ease that is portrayed here. Over the course of the decade or so, you see improvement in graphical layout, design and the complexity of the story that takes place in so little space.
Being anthropomorphic animals, the characters are allowed a lot more leeway in Varon’s art, compressing and expanding, transforming and moving in a distinct rhythm that’s hard to pin down. Her pieces of people are satisfied by engaging in only realistic fashion. With animals Varon seems to disregard reality temporarily, gleefully engaging in hyper-exaggerated fisticuffs, bizarre characters on book review safaris, and other examples of whimsical flights of fancy. Even in the only colored piece of artwork a human grows feathers in a pot so he can have wings to fly like a bird, It’s quite astounding.
For fans of James Kochalka, animal tales (no pun intended), and for the sheer love of a short, but insightful look into the mind of a comic’s author, look no further than Sweaterweather. It is a fantastic piece of picture and word and is sure to be a delight to readers of any form or function. It’s educational, introspective, whimsical and a darn good read.
I particularly appreciated the short notes introducing each story. Each provides some context to the piece, including when it was made and sometimes the author’s inspiration. Since the stories are often wordless, or light on text, it’s neat to find out more about the background for each tale. The lack of narration involves the reader more, too.
Varon’s focus on everyday activities — trying to get out of the cold, or cooking a meal for a friend, or swimming in a pool, or going camping — is refreshing. It illustrates how much of our life is spent in the kind of events that don’t seem significant, but they’re still important to us at the time, and they make for memories similar to those captured here. Her work is special in its ordinariness. (Although there is the occasional magical fantasy, such as the story about wanting to fly.)
Her figures are comforting, too. They’re simplified, often domesticated animals, such as cats, dogs, or rabbits, but in humanoid form. I was impressed by how much all this work over so many years hung together, with similar subjects and approaches. That makes Sweaterweather a consistent, enjoyable read throughout.
I liked, as well, the extra touches, whether it was the set of paper dolls or the educational comic all about urban beekeeping. Most of the pieces are happy, or at least, demonstrate contentment. The characters are friendly and sociable; friendship is a recurring theme. The exception, a piece in which a dog treats his robot badly after a day at the beach, thus stands out all the more powerfully. (And there’s an authorial explanation for it given.) Otherwise, even a boxing story involves good feelings at the end.
The book ends with a few diary strips and some interviews with other artists, moving from fiction to non-fiction. (The publisher provided a digital review copy. Review originally posted at ComicsWorthReading.com.)