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Reinventing Everything #1-2
By James Kochalka
Published by and available for $3.00 each from James Kochalka

Just last Thursday I was discussing with a friend how all the important releases of 2003 had probably already made themselves known. Most, like The ACME Novelty Library Datebook or Blankets have already come out. Some, like Paul Hornschemeier's Mother, Come Home are close to completion and hopefully will see publication before the end of the year. I was very comfortable in my opinion until a small envelope arrived in the mail from Vermont.

Reinventing Everything is the best work James Kochalka has done, collected in two self-published mini-comics that find him summarizing his life to date and setting off for the uncharted territory of parenthood. It's not, as I had presumed (and a friend reminded me), a response to Scott McCloud's Reinventing Comics. Much in the mode of Kochalka's earlier The Horrible Truth About Comics and the transcendent Sunburn, the cartoonist speaks directly to the reader about what he has learned and offers advice informed by his experiences and philosophy.

Sounds a little navel-gazey, and I suppose it is, but it's also charming and personal, and the ideas explored are worthy of discussion. Kochalka brings his sense of fun with him as he experiments with form in the early part of #1, beginning with Magic Boy (representing Kochalka, as always) playing with a Gameboy as we see him turn into a pixellated videogame character to explain how humans use their minds to unpackage complex, three-dimensional worlds encoded into all forms of art. We see Kochalka explore life from the subtle to the horrific -- from the amusing antics of a newborn kitten to the world-changing moment a couple of years ago when jets started slamming into buildings. These are the sort of unlikely connections at which Kochalka excels, and he uses his full creative power to convey the power of such dichotomies.

So why is James Kochalka, cartoonist and musician from Burlington, Vermont, exploring the outer reaches of his wisdom in comics form? The same thing that has, billions of times throughout human history, caused people to re-examine their lives and their place in the universe -- the recent birth of a child. Reinventing Everything is a love letter to Eli Ray Kochalka, who was born last month to James and Amy Kochalka and whose existence is intimately tied in to the events and concepts that his father explains here. In #2, we see in generous detail James and Amy making a series of decisions that bring them to their new lives -- a new home, a new child, and new hope for the future, not unaware that the world is a dangerous place, but also not unaware that at the same time it's a beautiful, magical experience. "Life can knock you around, but it's exhilarating." Reinventing Everything is exhilarating, too, a reaffirmation of Kochalka's towering gift for conveying humanity and his love of life with no shame or false sentiment. Welcome to the world, Eli, your Dad's got something very cool to show you. And all of us. Grade: 5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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