Jared Cullum was the first artist I spoke with at SPX (his table being conveniently located near the entrance I walked through) and I'm happy to say he amiciably set the precedent for my experience at the con. Here was a dedicated artist selling his wares to people who care, shoulder to shoulder with a hundred other artists who are all incredibly invested not only in their work, but in the SPX community itself. They're happy to be there, but they're even more pumped to see you at their table. I know that seems like it's standard for any con, but I can't help but stress how sincere the feeling was at SPX, and simply put, that's awesome. Mr. Cullum procured three books for me to check out and honestly, they're a mixed bag. With earlier work from his career offering a look at his shaky start, to a more realized work from this year that shows the guy has talent and potential.
G'night Old Man was the weakest of the three books I received.While there are a couple genuinely funny moments, the plot is just plain confusing. I think it's simply about some guy constantly attempting to knock off an old man, but I was never entirely sure. The book is basically working for a punchline that comes out of nowhere, while the motivation behind the action is murky at best. I didn't connect with the threadbare story-line, and I'm sure I struggled to place more meaning on the events than Mr. Cullum probably intended. The art here is also loosest, but coincidentally, of the three books, it offered a couple of the most innovative maneuvers in layout. It's small stuff, certainly, but I'd say it takes a sharp mind to come up with those maneuvers, develop them, and commit them to the page succesfully.
The Contrarian was the book that specifically drew me to Mr. Cullum's table, and the work that I found to be the quirkiest. While more concise in tone than G'night Old Man, the book still flip-flops between emotions without the right balance, and loses its head at times trying to mix its own sense of humor with some more serious twists. It's still a likeable book, but it struggles trying to find its heart or its funny bone.
Doesn't mean this cover is any less hilarious though.
The story revolves around the titular contrarian, who steals a time machine and proceeds to wreck havoc throughout the time-stream with his powers of persuasion, before ultimately meeting his match. I enjoyed it more for the laughs, but it's also a noticably more concise effort than G'night Old Man.
Hotel Le Jolie was the best of the three, as it's the most consistent in tone and the most rewardingly told story. It's a sweet tale with an honest heart,detailing the reunion of two people who haven't seen each other in years, its moments ringing true for anyone who has said something stupid in the heat of an adolescent moment. It's a believable story with an ambiguous ending I'm happy to say neither felt like saccharine indulgence or a copout.
What I most liked about this last book is that its events felt familiar and real to me. The first being the awkward “hey do I know them? Yeah-I-totally-know-them-frick-this-will-be-awkward-I-hope-they-don't-say-anything” thought process that descends upon us in the heat of remembrance we embrace when falling into a situation with someone we think we've long since forgotten; the second being the times in our life when we pull a lot of vitriol out of our arse in the heat of the moment to save face. The book convincingly directed me to ask "how do we reconcile those moments of anguish we've inflicted on one another, and how does it bubble up under everyday life?"
Well, I hope that roundabout summary of story and emotions at the very least convinced you of the effect Mr. Cullum's work had on me. It wasn't transcendent by any means, but I found promise between the panels. There's talent at work here, and an ear for dialogue I can only see becoming more and more believable. I also appreciate that Mr. Cullum isn't afraid to experiment in different types of stories, jumping from sci-fi to slice of life with relative ease.
I enjoyed his books, and I hope he keeps doing what he's doing. Check out his site if you'd like to sample his work yourself.