By Joe Ollmann. Drawn & Quarterly, 178 pp, softcover
Joe Ollmann says his new graphic novel is semi-autobiographical. The Montreal-based artist is in no hurry to reveal what's true in Mid-Life and what's fiction, and from a reader's standpoint it doesn't really matter. For Ollmann's sake, though, let's hope some of the bad bits are made-up.
The protagonist of Mid-Life is the cleverly named John Olsen (you see what Ollmann did there?). From the outside, the guy's got it pretty good, with an adoring wife and adorable baby at home, and a stable white-collar design gig at a magazine. But John's not happy. At 40, he's convinced his body is in rapid decline, his creativity is being squandered, and parenting an infant boy as he himself enters middle age is making him feel impossibly old and decrepit.
It's a classic midlife crisis. Our goatee-sporting hero's response to it is to systematically, albeit unconsciously, screw up all the things he should be working hard to maintain: his relationship with his two adult daughters, his career, and his marriage.
Things take a turn for the worse when John develops a long-distance crush on children's entertainer Sherri Smalls. When he arranges to meet her in New York while he's ostensibly there for work...well, that's the climax of his darkly amusing personal turmoil and also of the book, so I can't say more than that.
Ollmann's liver-spots-and-all depiction of his semi-fictional stand-in is frank and comically unflattering, but we root for him even as we want to throttle him for every boneheaded misstep. Unlike, say, Daniel Clowes's misanthropic Wilson, Olsen seems one epiphany away from redemption. I've never wanted two characters to not hook up as much as I did John and Sherri.