guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

July 2009
J. T. Yost, Old Man Winter, and Other Sordid Tales (Birdcage Bottom Books, 2009). $6.95. paperback.

By Jared Gardner

J. T. Yost’s Xeric Award-winning first collection of short stories is a splendid promise of good things to come. The title story is the gem of the short collection and the one new piece in the book, and by itself it is worth the price of admission. It is a quiet, gentle story about the efforts of an old man in his final days to make human contact, to find the much-needed warmth he increasingly finds himself missing since the death of his wife. It is restrained and touching without ever being maudlin or manipulative.

Nothing else in the collection is quite up to the level of the title story, at least in terms of the writing. Three of the other four pieces touch on cruelty-to-animals issues that are clearly deeply important to Yost, and he handles them well. The early story “Roadtrip” is the most overtly didactic of them, but while its punch-line is no surprise, it is visually the story I enjoyed most after “Old Man Winter,” if only because of the splendid use of crosshatching that brought a texture and density to the panels. Yost leans perhaps too heavily on his striking broad strokes, letting the computer shade in the open spaces between, and I loved to see him bring more some of the nuance and detail from “Roadtrip” to “Old Man Winter.”

The long, rambling apologia, “Logging Shanjay” seemed a throwaway to me, and my gut instinct tells me autobiographical comics are not where Yost’s heart lies or where his best future work will come from. He is a natural graphic short story writer, as “All is Forgiven...” suggests. Here a animal researcher engaged in the most barbaric of tortures comes home from the lab to an empty house and a “Dear John” letter. His response is bizarre, irrational and somehow exactly right. Yost’s instincts for how best to end this story give me an immense faith that there are many strange and beautiful stories still to come.