Eisner-nominated webcomic Max Overacts has gotten its own print edition and as a bookshelf person, I could not be more thrilled.
To be perfectly honest, I was vaguely familiar with Max Overacts before checking out the new book, but mostly through the occasional stumble on one of the strips elsewhere on the Internet. (Like this one which I swear I want framed.) Lucky for me, Max Overacts Volume 1: Hold on to Your Stubs is the perfect primer. I am a New Yorker and I was so absorbed reading this book that I actually missed my subway stop and had to backtrack like a tourist. It was both awesome and personally embarrassing.
The volume collects the first 142 strips as well at 10 bonus strips focusing on Max's older sister Andi, each of which compliments the overarching story and really adds a great depth to the existing strips. Max Overacts follows the daily life of 8-year-old aspiring thespian Max as he overdramatizes pretty much every aspect of his life from family dinners to school assignments. He's accompanied in his "adventures" by a cast of both willing and unwilling participants including his family, best friend, crush and ventriloquist dummy Curio.
Now aside from my absolute terror at the idea of an 8-year-old capable of ventriloquism, I fell completely in love with this comic. Max, to my mind, is a Calvin for the modern age, but with a more realistic edge. He isn't just an idealized idea of a larger-than-life child. He knows THINGS. Writer/artist Caanan Grall (though he signs all his art with just his first name) is aware that in this world of reality TV and the Internet, a kid like Max, who's just a little too smart for his own good (and a bit of a con artist to be honest), wouldn't be an innocent. It's a balance of wry humor and child-like enthusiasm and it really makes the comic work.
One of the best parts though in my reading was something that's subtle on the website. In the book, at the bottom of each page (with the exception of the Andi strips) there is a small sketch of Max making an apropos quote commenting on each of the strips above it. On the site, each of these commentaries is in the header, but honestly I never really noticed them there. Here, as footers, the subtext they present post-strip is fantastic. These were pretty much just as funny as the strips themselves and this running commentary, as if Max is being shown each of these strips and being asked to justify himself, really give Max an additional depth, even when he's just quoting clichés. The point that he even knows the clichés to defend himself with is a statement within itself.
So clearly I loved the writing in this book, but the art is nothing to shrug at either. Caanan is an artist by profession. This is not his first venture into comics and it shows. His character designs are clean and consistent. There is no shifting of art style or professionalism as he breaks the story in as you often see in a lot of webcomics. The art is strong right from the get-go. He obviously didn't decide to make Max into a comic without some real planning and I admire that in a comic. As much as it is, to a degree, accepted for webcomic art to evolve over time, there is something particularly endearing about the consistency of one that doesn't. The only real evolution of the art is that Caanan is committed to the story being a real story and not just a series of vignettes. There is an overarching plot and the characters do grow and change. This is probably most apparent in the older characters like Andi, but it's still refreshing to see him aging and altering his characters in a logical manner, not just having essentially the same character go through different motions in each script.
All-in-all, clearly I loved this collection (and I haven't allowed myself to finish reading the strips online until I wrote this review, so that I could really focus on the book). It has made its way onto my bookshelf and there it will stay, anxiously awaiting what I hope will be many more volumes to come.
TL;DR: A strong, well-rounded comic both in writing and art, this collection gives some great value add in a very nice package. Even if you read the comic online, I would suggest picking up the book for posterity (and for Andi).
Max Overacts Volume 1: Hold on to Your Stubs is a collection of the first 142 strips of the webcomic written and illustrated by Caanan Grall. He self-published the volume through a Kickstarter campaign and now you can buy it through his website or at any of the retailers listed there (mostly in Canada). You can also encourage your LCS to carry it by getting in touch with him. You can read all of Max Overacts (and other comics) online at occasionalcomics.com.
A review copy of Max Overacts Volume 1: Hold on to Your Stubs was graciously provided to Spandexless by the creator.