I'll admit, a lot of my criteria for choosing a book to review boils down to "does the name of the book make me curious?". When the books arrive at my doorstep, nine times out of ten I know barely more than that they exist. I guess I'll just say that I'm really dedicated to objective criticism. Am I judging a book by the cover before I've even read it? Who knows! On the one hand, every book becomes an interesting surprise, like a mini-Christmas. On the other hand, Beth will probably take advantage of my complacency by mailing me something that makes my eyes scream one of these days, and I'd probably deserve it. I had no idea what Dear Beloved Stranger was about before opening the book to a random page, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise itself. It's emotional, artistic and intriguing. Literally zero pages caused me mental harm, which is nice.
Dear Beloved Stranger is the true story of the author, Dino Pai, who's fresh out of college and unable to find a job. He's shy, depressed and artistically talented, so as far as any Fortune 500 company is concerned he's the nightmare job candidate. Still, he's plugging away, and the story chronicles his attempts to overcome his difficulties and scrounge around the depths of his soul for the reason he got into graphic design in the first place. There's love and loss here, but there's also hope.
It's a story of personal growth and soul-searching which hit a chord with me, and I'm sure it ought to strike one with many of you as well for different reasons. It's the kind of story where the protagonist doesn't get everything he wants in the end, but he gets the thing he needs most—so while it might not be a stereotypical happy ending, it's definitely far from being a tragedy. Or a Pyrrhic victory for that matter. Even though it's autobiographical, it enjoys the occasional leap into fantasy. The paper airplanes are a great metaphor, objects grounded in reality but aspiring to make dreams real.
I really enjoy how his style changes with his mood. It begins in a manga style that reflects his melancholy, kind of watercolor-y with an emphasis on colors that are neither bright, nor too dark—kind of a perpetual rainy day feel. When he begins sketching a comic about his existentialism, he uses a brighter, cartoonish style to create the dreamlike state of the story. Hayao Miyazaki definitely has an admirer in every penstroke. There's a brief scene where he uses a monochrome style that dips into a more depressed mood, and I like that a lot too. Then near the end, he has a couple spectacular 2 page spreads that blend all the styles that influenced him in his art career. It's really worth reading for the pictures alone.
I like this kind of story because of its conclusion. It's a reminder of how life really is; "happily ever after" is just a cop-out. Life stops there. But in the real world, like Dino's life, the end of the book is also a beginning. As cliche as that sounds, it's still the best story to me. That's why I say you should read it—it's a story for anyone who's stuck in a rut and needs some inspiration. For my part I wish Dino the best of luck—this is a good start to a comic career.
TL; DR: Dear Beloved Stranger is a great tale about the search for oneself which I fully recommend.
Dear Beloved Stranger is written and illustrated by Dino Pai. Pai self-published it under Urban Fairytales and it is currently being distributed by Top Shelf Productions. You can buy it through their website, ask for it at your local comic book store, or, support Spandexless by purchasing through our Amazon web store. It was also a Xeric Foundation self-publishing grant-winner for May 2012.
A review copy of Dear Beloved Stranger was graciously provided to Spandexless by Top Shelf.