Friday, April 5, 2013

Scenes From A Portland Bar: Adult Babysitting

Sometimes you read a comic and the high concept is so obvious, one wonders why it hasn't been done before. So it is with Adult Babysitting volumes one and two, Maryanna Hoggatt's illustrated account of being a bartender in Portland. These minis are a mix of drink recipes, bar vignettes, ruminations on being a bartender, gags and other assorted ephemera done in a smooth and highly attractive style that's a nice mix between naturalism and cartoony. These comics go down so smoothly that I immediately wanted to read the second issue after I read the first and then was disappointed when I was done with the second issue that there wasn't more. That's a tribute to Hoggatt's easy-going storytelling persona and her sense of humor. For example, the first issue leads off with a series of gags called "The Lessons of Bartending". The first, captioned "Never ask a girl why she's crying", features a stone-faced Hoggatt simply asking "Neat or on the rocks?" when a woman sobs out a drink order to her. Hoggatt is a great letterer, and that's key in the format she uses here, with lots of open space to take advantage of. It has a pleasant, decorative quality that morphs into more elaborate script to emphasize certain concepts (like "full moon") but mostly is just clear and attractive.

What I like most about these comics is the way Hoggatt captures the rhythms of her workplace and the occasional way a bar can become a true center of community, with favored regulars and a buzz of energy that sustains a bartender over a work shift. Her full-color section detailing the ways in which seasons change the atmosphere of the bar is simply beautiful cartooning, capturing the nature of her clientele as they vary their routines but include going to this favored pub. At the same time, Hoggatt draws humor out of the exceptional and memorable events surrounding the bar, like being present at a robbery at the bar across the street (and actually getting up to get her drink after being told to get on the floor!) Hoggatt's bartending tips are actually quite useful (like using the tip of a rubber glove so the acid from limes and lemons doesn't damage one's finger), as are the drink recipes and the best ways to hold glasses. Honestly, I could easily see her expanding these comics out to book length and selling them to a general audience. She's a skilled cartoonist, has an understated sense of humor and an eye for detail. I hope to see more of these soon.

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