When I first picked up AE Stueve’s The ABCs of Dinkology, I thought of a Calvin and Hobbes strip. I don’t remember all the details, but in the strip Calvin explained how comics are low art and paintings are high art. Prodded by Hobbes, Calvin goes on to explain how a comic of a painting is derivative and sophomoric whereas a painting of a comic is ironic and thus still high art. The point of the strip, regardless of how much I may be misremembering it, is that such distinctions are crap, purely being a matter of how we regard things.
After all, how could the addition of drawings suddenly make a story less of a significant story? I certainly wouldn’t put all comics in the class of great literature — particularly the Archie [Spire] series — but I definitely regard it as a mistake to think light of them simply because of the form.
However, this discussion may not even be completely necessary when looking at The ABCs of Dinkology. For one thing, the book seems to fall somewhere between whatever boundary lines exist between a comic book and a novel. It has parts of both and uses both to good advantage. Further, the illustrated portions of the novel are not just for the sake of fun (though I do love the style Chris Smith utilizes, minimalistic in its meticulously chosen and placed bold lines with just enough of a sense of awkwardness to perfectly suit the somewhat geeky main character). Instead, the form naturally flows from the mind of the character and strikes me as essential to the story as anything that occurs.
But . . . it would probably be good to actually get around to talking about the story as opposed to dwelling forever on the form. In the story we have Max, a somewhat geeky high school virgin who is into comics, pot, poetry, drawing, and his girlfriend Laura. At the start of the book Max is sitting waiting for his girlfriend after her being away at college, his arm still in a cast from a semi-recent injury during a flag football game (yes, I said flag football). However, she shows up to tell him that she is gay and he is too. This is only the start of Max’s world going into the shitter; things get worse from there.
Mind you, the book isn’t a YA whinefest where bad things just happen to Max so we can feel sorry for him and better about ourselves. The bad things that happen to Max serve, in my mind, at least partially to allow Max to demonstrate to us how he can fumblingly attempt to deal with them, showcasing more of who he is.
For example, the accusation that he is gay bothers max quite a bit. Though he wrestles with the issue quite a bit, he ends up trying to lose his virginity (and perhaps prove something to himself) to a local hot girl who has an inexplicable crush on him and whom he isn’t really attracted to:
Taylor listed up her head and looked into Max’s eyes. He thought she wanted him to lose himself in her green plates, but he couldn’t.
To hide his indifference, he leaned down to place a rushed kiss on her lips.
Surprisingly, Max kind of enjoyed it. She tasted different than Laura. There was no harsh cigarette overtone clouding everything. Her lips were just sweet, like grape soda. Max accepted the fact that all kisses affected him, even bad ones. On some basic level, he associated them with pizza, and a bad slice was better than no slice. But a kiss wasn’t satisfying enough–he needed more.
Taylor pulled away and took his hands in hers.
“Let’s go back to my house,” she cooed, “No one’s home.”
However, the situation ends in a way that is purely Max:
“Do you like what you see?” she asked, her voice so sultry that it upped the humidity of the room.
“I….” Max felt woozy. He did like what he saw, but this was too much. I’m not ready. This isn’t right. Despite his instincts screaming that Laura was wrong, Max knew this was wrong too. “I’m sorry, Taylor,” he murmured. “I thought I could–I want to–but I can’t do this.”
As Taylor’s expression went from seductive to shattered, Max backed out of her room, ran from the house, jumped in his car, and drove to school without looking back.
I ended up really digging Max, as well as the rest of the story. Stueve presents his character with a raw urgency that got under my skin and pulled me in. Max’s story touched me and I couldn’t pull myself away from what was happening to him. I can only hope that a sequel is planned, because I definitely want more.
Disclaimer: AE Stueve has written reviews for InDigest. InDigest editors had no influence over the writing of this review.