Glimpses of Life by Brian Canini is an autobiographical comic that dramatizes the little moments often overlooked. The comic centers around a father who is adjusting to his new role as a parent. The plot is conveyed less as an interlinking, continuous narrative and more as a series of page-by-page vignettes interspersed with strands of inner monologue that solidify the story’s intent.
The monochrome styling and cartoonish melodrama merged with the autobiographical content of Canini’s writing is reminiscent of a scratchier, charcoal-textured Art Spiegelman comic. Although, due to its lack of traditional word balloons and reliance on extra-panel captioning, it comes off more as an illustrated children’s book. Whether or not the similarities to children’s literature are intentional, it offers a nice stylistic juxtaposition of a story about the growing pains of parenthood presented in the manner of a picture book — traditionally a format meant for kids.
The main leitmotif of the comic is the shifting role of the main protagonist as he adjusts to all the usual aspects of childrearing (dirty diapers, sleepless nights, crying). What is extraordinary about the narrative is how ordinary it is. Comics as a medium are prone to bombast and usually forego the subtleties and quiet moments of life for the epic and the absurd.
In that regard, this book’s closest analogue is not within the medium of comics, but in an often overlooked movie that was released last year: Paterson, a Jim Jarmusch film with similar aspirations. The main idea behind both works is to depict life as it is, stripped of the hyperbolic scenarios of most fiction to instead focus on the emotional content of ordinary moments and how it all exacerbates the protagonist’s inner and outer conflict. It is refreshing to see these sorts of works in genres overrun with absurd levels of fantasy and heavy-handed story conventions.
While Paterson is not about parenting, the tone and approach are similar. Both these titles also make the choice of not indulging in cynicism about their subject matter. It could be very easy to simply slide into a “parenting sucks” narrative and deride real life as lacking the bluster of fiction, but the story instead keeps its sights on the rites of passage in raising children and the occasional insecurities of the protagonist.
Sadly, while the comic has a potent premise, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Its personal nature may also deter people who could dismiss it as rather indulgent. The difficulty with a premise like this is that it tows the line between uniqueness and mundanity. It requires a very deft hand to accurately fulfill the promise of making normality compelling.
A good example of delivering on a low-concept premise is John Alison’s Giant Days, although, that benefits from being mostly a comedy. The tone in Glimpses of Life is a bit more difficult to grasp, particularly due to how it shifts from scene to scene rapidly. This can give the book a distinct feeling of lacking proper transitions. As if the parts are there but the seams needed more refining. This isn’t helped by the fact that there are certain pages that are almost completely blank, save for a few drawings. I understand minimalism, but at times it just seems too empty.
The lettering format used in the comic is worth noting. It’s hand-written most of the time, changing shape, positioning and size as the narrative demands. Occasionally, there are words that have been crossed out or written over, which I liked. It gives the comic a very raw and rough look which fit in well with all the other elements at play.
The book is most definitely a personal work and a labour of love, so I don’t want to bash it. However, it does seem lacking in many areas. Certain pages have far too much unused panel space often with 4 tiny squares and nothing else to cover the whole page. While there are many touching moments in the first 2 issues, they don’t always get the build-up because of the atemporal style of scene transitions. A lot of the time the comic comes off as abrupt. While there’s nothing egregiously bad in the book, it does seem a bit unpolished.
In the end, it’s a novel premise. While it didn’t not make me jump with joy, I’d like more comics with a focus on slice-of-life realism. It’s a great experiment that doesn’t quite manage to get me on board, despite having its heart in the right place.