Don’t let the small furry animals fool you. In Invincible Days, Patrick Atangan’s elegantly simple, highly stylized visual storytelling draws the reader into the seasons of life with craft and guile.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what to make of the Eisner-nominated Patrick Atangan’s return to comics when Invincible Days arrived in the mail from publisher NBM. I’m not one who typically judges a book by its cover, but this book had a bunch of small, furry, anthropomorphic animals on the cover.
I just don’t gravitate to these kinds of books very often, though I try to remain open-minded – with varying degrees of success.
Once I started reading, though, I quickly realized what a brilliant choice Atangan had made in utilizing such innocuous storytelling vehicles to draw the reader into his intensely personal and insightful exploration of growing up in a Filipino immigrant family and dealing with the loss of a beloved grandmother.
Using a strict twelve-panel grid and static “camera” but switching up the cute little critter in each four-page short, Atangan replicates the consistent beat of the daily routine, allowing him to create a simmering underlying tension between the mundane and the painfully unexpected.
By structuring the book along the four seasons, he reinforces the juxtaposition of life’s implacable, steady progress with those emotional touchstones that mark our daily journeys.
While, on the surface, each one of Atangan’s tales stands alone, there are several thematic connective tissues fusing these stories into a deceptively robust narrative musculature. It takes a lot of courage to sound the depths of one’s own loss and then relate your feelings to an audience of strangers. It also takes a thick skin.
Atangan’s unflinching gaze and attention to emotional detail afford him an acute sensitivity to the highs and lows of life. From the death of a beloved pet to the depiction of his grandmother’s sudden stroke and long, drawn-out illness, Atangan never fails to record the unexpected emotional beats that break up the steady rhythm of life with insight, care, and craft.
Pretty soon you don’t really see the animals anymore. The form Atangan’s characters take becomes secondary to the personal journey he’s relating with such maturity and poise. Invincible Days is a book that delights in living between the dueling tensions of love and painful loss, the same way we sometimes court pleasure and pain in equal measure.
Atangan displays exceptional restraint throughout the book, allowing the structure of Invincible Days to dictate the pace. And although he never deviates from the strict rules he set for himself, he manages to find variety by interspersing relevant and often humorous observations of his life growing up in California as a Filipino-American among his bittersweet remembrances of his grandmother’s passing.
A dramatic stylistic departure from his previous works such as The Yellow Jar, Invincible Days is a testament to the refinement of Atangan’s skills as an artist and his fearlessness as a storyteller.
Patrick Atangan (W/A) • NBM Publishing, $19.99, August 2014.