They Have Bigger Fish To Fry: November Garcia reviews DEAR DIARIES MINI #1 by Jesse Reklaw

If you’ve ever wondered if your cat thinks less of you for scooping out its litter box, the answer is simple: they have bigger fish to fry. That is, at least, in the eyes of the narrator in Jesse Reklaw’s mini: Dear Diaries

Dear Diaries is a compilation of four-panel diary entries written from the point of view of Jesse Reklaw’s cat, Littles. As a teenager might confide in their diary, Littles dutifully records her everyday struggles and triumphs, big and small, in her life as a domestic house cat, who happens to share space with a human. 

While stories told from the point of view of a pet are nothing new, what makes this series compelling is its ability to transcend cutesy pet puns and tell a meaningful story with fully-formed characters and complex relationships. Littles, along with all the supporting animal characters are somewhat anthropomorphized. They wear clothes, smoke cigarettes, and play the trumpet—yet somehow exist as regular creatures in the eyes of the humans (it reminds me a little bit of Calvin and Hobbes, but in a much, much cooler way). This visual representation of the pets creates a vibe that is a combination of both dignity and primitivism, all at once—a contradiction that seemingly exists in most real life cats, which makes them the hilarious, enigmatic beings that they are (yes, I am biased. But aren’t all the best artists cat people? heh heh).

Reklaw’s use of thematic contrast intensifies as the human storyline unfolds. Depression, alcoholism, homelessness, and psychotic breakdowns are told against a narrative of a cat’s natural self-importance. “Dad” (Reklaw), as many of us are, is going through some life struggles, perhaps worse and more harrowing than those of others. And while Littles’ life concerns are understandably blown out of proportion, what’s actually going on in the larger, human world is largely minimized. Like some sort of existential cantilever, it’s the tension that ties the entire thing together. And most interestingly, the genius of it all is that the backstory is actually the main story. 

(On a side note: these events appear to be consistent with the timeline of Reklaw’s illustrated diary book, LOVF. This is a pleasant surprise for those of us who have read it. The two of these books give the perspective of viewing the events all from a different camera angle. Snippets of that same story are witnessed in this mini, but this time, from the point-of-view of a present observer.)

This is not to say that Littles’ anecdotes do not add to the narrative—quite the opposite, actually. To state the obvious: there is nothing small about Littles’ personality (pun intended). Like Dad, she is flawed, expressive, and sometimes even explosive, but not without a sense of humor. I find that these qualities always make for a good protagonist. Her observations are rich with dry humor and her expressions are comical. Her signature vomit revenge move is one of my favorite visual punchlines. Littles is what brings the funny in this mini—a crucial component for balancing out some heavy human drama.

Since Littles is the main character and narrator of her own stories, Dad’s tale is indirectly told through conversations between the humans—all very much in the background of her retrospections. Arguments between roommates, phone conversations with family members, and even Reklaw’s own monologues stitch together a clear picture of what is happening in his life. There’s a lot going on, yet Reklaw manages to keep these human characters and events from taking center stage. Even as the humans in Littles’ narrative are of even less significance than the supporting characters, Reklaw goes a step further and obscures their faces. The reader may catch a hint of a beard, a glimpse of a nose, or a sleeping eye, but that’s pretty much it.  

This in no way hinders the reader’s ability to connect with the characters as their personalities are expressed through body language and dress, apart from the dialogue. This thoughtful cartooning is what makes Reklaw more than just a good draftsman. This is also evident in his ability to make Littles’ big personality come to life—a difficult task considering she has a simple black and white face full of fur. The other animals are equally nuanced, with the dogs being the least cartoony. Sporting a smaller range in their expressions, this somehow makes it even funnier, as dogs tend to have flatter personalities in real life (see “biased cat person” comment earlier).

Reklaw’s line is clean, yet loose—which is my favorite kind of line. He is technically skilled, but his drawings have just the right amount of a cartoony look, which helps to avoid things getting either too clinical or too cutesy either way.  Each panel is jam-packed with detailed environments, beautiful angles, and interesting, thoughtful composition. The mood is set vividly with beautiful watercolor washes. And I’d be remiss not to mention that I’m a sucker for great lettering—and Reklaw pulls it off superbly.

In all, Dear Diaries is a deceptively simple mini. The longer that I spent digesting it, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I found to write about. Yet, what I initially loved about Dear Diaries was how much fun it was to read. And, without getting on too high of a horse here, I’ll say that that is the most important thing of all…because stories were meant to be told, and comics were meant to be read.

Dear Diaries can be read on Jesse Reklaw’s website, but I suggest you order a print copy so you can enjoy it in book form and also smell the intoxicating musk of paper.

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