Monday, April 6, 2009
Graphic Novel Monday: All Over Coffee, by Paul Madonna
All Over Coffee, by Paul Madonna. Published 2007 by City Lights Publishers. Graphica.
All Over Coffee is a collection of 150-odd strips that originally ran in the San Francisco Chronicle; not really a graphic novel so much as an urban sketchbook, it's a record of the mundane- the every day moments that make up life- and a mash note to a city.
Illustrated in sepia tones with occasional splashes of color, in ink and ink mixed with water, the pictures show a keen eye for detail and a reverence for its subjects, from gorgeous Victorians and modern office buildings, to quiet alleys, modest homes, highways, skylines and domestic interiors of all stripes. The diversity of images defy stereotyping and easy definition. What he never shows is people. His scenes are quiet and empty of people as I suspect San Francisco probably never is, so the image he's presenting is idealized and pristine, perhaps taking place just before or just after something has occurred. Nevertheless, I took a great deal of pleasure in just leafing through the book and letting my eye wander over all of Madonna's gorgeous pictures.
I wish I could have found some scans to show you. I love how, for example, in strip 286, Madonna shows an empty, cluttered coffeeshop and uses the play of light on the wall to portray emptiness even as a full refrigerator facing outward almost anticipates the customers to come.
And it's the illustrations that make All Over Coffee; the writing consists of snippets of fictionalized, overheard conversation between random people, and while they have a certain zen-like quality in their simplicity and profundity, I think the writing is probably best appreciated one day at a time, in the newspaper. I can see sitting in a cafe and enjoying the strip over morning coffee, but in book form, reading multiple strips at a time gets a little dull. The art never does.
I picked this book up on my vacation to San Francisco last year at City Lights Bookstore, where it was published; I got it as a souvenir and because it struck me as not something I might find back home. Believe me, I bought a lot of graphic novels in San Francisco, but none of them so unique to the city. Going through it is a lovely way to revisit my trip and I'd recommend it to people who love the city (and that includes people who live there) and for those interested in the visual presentation of contemporary American urban life.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.