Having grown up believing that comic books should solely be about caped crusaders, giant robots, or caricatured war heroes all beating the living daylights out of each other, its always a burst of freshness to find comic books akin to Jonathan Baylis’ autobiographical anthology So… Buttons.
So… Buttons features no story arcs but spans a year’s worth of issues and multiple universes, playing out like a Star Wars/Eastenders mash-up. It doesn’t have any sudden-yet-looking-back-now-highly-obvious-they-were-going-to-get-it deaths. Instead, it’s lots of little dramas, which are often quite hilarious in their context.
Studio Ghibli has not only set the standard for involving a sense of humanity in animated form, but had also made it an acceptable form of entertainment in general, which is something So… Buttons utilizes in similar manners. But there’s nothing here that’s quite on the same scale as Spirited Away – the stories here take place in cars, in libraries, in classrooms, and at the brunch table, all reinforcing the quite dramas that Baylis puts his caricatured self through.
Also, when was the last time you saw a Ghibli film talk of sex, racism or Nazis?
But roughly, each story centres on a moment of maturity for Baylis’ cartoon self, from child to adult, as the character learns that the world around him is not as black and white as he once thought. Whether it’s realizing that your tastes in porn could amount to you being racist. Or trying to explain to your girlfriend how wasteful one can be with shirts when showers are involved. Or even attempting to justify how man can build concentration camps with building Fantasia-inspired castles instead.
I can’t help but feel that if I fully explain what occurs in each individual short, I’ll rob them of the show-don’t-tell qualities that these stories master so well. And when you’re reading a comic book, the showing is something that helps – a lot – very much so.
The art-work pushes and pulls between black/white and colour, while three artists handle the seven stories, a smart move that separates each short, especially when you’re writing about events all inspired by yourself. The characters are often crammed into the frames as well, highlighting the immediacy and intimacy of the book as a whole.
It’s a wonderful little anthology that rewards multiple readings, each read allowing the drama to sink in a bit more every time you turn the page. And what’s even better is that there’s a volume two out.