Review: Book Learnin’ – John McNamee

Review: Book Learnin’ – John McNameeBook Learnin'
by John McNamee
Publisher: Lion Forge
Publication Date: March 19, 2019
Genres: Graphic Novel, Humor
Pages: 128
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne Star

Pie Comics began as a college comic strip way back in the mid '00s, when flip phones roamed the earth. But after a shoulder injury forced cartoonist John McNamee to simplify his drawing style and improvise comics, Pie Comics evolved into the beloved strip it is today! This new collection from The Onion and the New Yorker contributor features his most incisive and hilarious comics on knowledge, how we obtain it, and how we distort it.

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2 stars icon graphic-novel

I read and enjoyed the author’s previous collection, Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears, so I was excited to see that a new collection was coming soon.  Unfortunately, this one was a lot less successful for me.

While the previous collection dealt with fairy tellings, fables, and other books, this one has the comics arranged as a sort of school with five subjects: The Arts, Social Sciences, Zoology, Science & Technology, and Business.  At the end, there’s a “brief summary” of the history of the universe (my favorite comic, actually) and a “certificate” for successfully reading one book.  While the format is amusing, it didn’t really work for me.  Arranging them like this meant that similar comics were often arranged back-to-back, and honestly, when there’s three cops-and-robbers comics in a row, all with basically the same punchline, it’s hard to find any of them funny.

The art style still works well for me – very minimalistic with simplistic, slightly more sketched in stick figures – and for the content.  I thought the colors were particularly well done, drawing your attention to the key part of each panel with little fanfare.  Most of the comics are 4-6 panels on a single page, though a few span multiple pages.  For the most part (excepting the last one) the longer comics didn’t work for me, as I think the snarky, sarcastic humor works best short and punchy.

Zoology had the largest selection of funny comics for me – I mean, animals are pretty funny to begin with, yes?  The most successful ones were the ones that reflected what I loved about the last collection – a mix of biting social commentary and utter absurdity.  And while I’ve definitely thought about the “lizard on your shoulder” comic a few times, none of them were quite funny enough to want to show someone else immediately.  And that’s the problem with this collection – most of the comics are just not that funny.  Some of it was the repetitiveness.  Like the aforementioned cops-and-robbers theme, while I mildly liked the first “robots are better!” comic, the third or fourth one was just… annoying.  I can certainly see that it might be a popular theme for the author to return to, but in a collection, whatever humor it might have had is taken away by the fact that we just saw the same punchline on the previous page.  Others seemed to miss the mark completely, and there were a few that left me scratching my head trying to figure out what was supposed to be funny about it.
And this last comic encapsulates how I feel about the whole collection.  Where it’s good, it’s really really good, but unfortunately, I didn’t find the majority of it funny.  It’s telling that, while I normally have to sort through a lot of panels to pick my favorites for my review, for this book I struggled to find enough.  Overall, I didn’t find this particularly amusing, and would instead highly recommend Mr. McNamee’s previous collection instead, which still remains one of my favorites.

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