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Sublife Vol.1

by John Pham

Publisher: Fantagraphics

Format: Softcover, 8 x 7, partial color, $8.99

ISBN: 978-1-56097-946-3

Reviewed by: Publishers Weekly

Pham made his name in the art comics community with his minicomics and self-published work, but this first volume of a projected twice-annual series is a leap in both style and scope. Most of it is devoted to "221 Sycamore St.," a set of linked vignettes about the dysfunctional residents of a shared house and the community that surrounds them, including a bitter old Catholic school teacher, a boy who wears a sheet over his entire upper body, some cokehead club kids and a pair of white supremacists with an attack dog. The tone and design of Sublife owe a lot to Chris Ware—a pair of one-page strips about lonely, bored astronauts could be Acme Novelty Library outtakes—and a lot of its dramatic tension similarly comes from Pham’s attempts to present miserable or loathsome characters sympathetically. The two-tone artwork, though, is a striking, distinctive combination of broad, minimalist cartooning (a closeup of an odor-sensitive deli employee's face is drawn with six stylized lines and two dots), painstakingly detailed textures, bold open spaces and vivid abstractions. Pham's also a superb storyteller who lets his drawings carry symbolic elements as well as psychological details—the book's bravura opening sequence, about a stray cat trying to find safety, silently anticipates everything that follows.