You wouldn’t think that a comic about the fractured marriage of two dogs during the 2016 election would make for a work of great poignancy; however, in the case of James Sturm’s graphic novel Off Season, you’d be wrong. Someone in the book remarks, “Using animals as human stand-ins is as old as storytelling,” and you soon forget the characters are dogs as you become caught up in their all-too-human problems. Even the book’s two colors — white and a grayish blue — help set a melancholy tone.
The novel’s title refers not only to a miserable trip the protagonist, Mark, takes with his two young children to a Maine resort town during the winter, but also to the lousy season he is having overall. His mother is dying. Mark is in construction, and he’s getting cheated by the contractor he works for, which means he’s late on his own bills. In addition, he’s visited with all the usual troubles of a newly separated parent.
Perhaps the book’s greatest insight is how people such as Mark might find Donald Trump’s election all but irrelevant. Mark’s preferred presidential candidate was Bernie Sanders, and he never shares his estranged wife’s enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton. As November turns into snowy December, his mind is very much on his own troubles, and his affluent wife’s involvement with the Resistance seems like a luxury, if not an outright affront. Off Season ends on a note of muted optimism, but readers who are looking for escapism and cheerful platitudes should definitely look elsewhere.