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My Uncle Jeff By Matt Martin
Origin Comics Ė Damon Hurd (w); Pedro Camello (a)
Reading this book made me feel bad about myself.
Initially, I looked at the solicitation copy for this in Previews and said to myself, ďOh, another autobiographical mini-comic. Thatís what the industryís short onÖĒ So Iím not really sure why I felt the need to go ahead and order it. Maybe itís the fact that Iíve got a comics budget that would sicken a normal fan (thatís not hyperbole, I assure you) or maybe itís because the cover features people who look like they could be my neighbors (I live in an extremely small town in southern Illinois, if that helps you visualize). In the end, I think itís because book seemed like it was a story about heavily favoring one member of your family over the others and I can sympathize with that feeling, because I donít like a good portion of my own.
So why do I feel bad about myself? Because this book is stunningly good and I didnít have faith in it.
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Reading My Uncle Jeff is a lot like being introduced to your significant otherís family at some sort of family function or gathering (and Iíd know, since I met most of my fiancťeís enormous family at Thanksgiving dinner). Youíre hit with a rapid-fire barrage of names, faces and terse summaries of the relevant facts about each member of the family. Things like ďThatís Uncle Joe; he swears a lot.Ē Or ďThatís my Aunt Kay, she doesnít get along with my mother.Ē Hurd begins introducing his fatherís side of the family, then backtracks to introduce the absent maternal side, feeling (and rightfully so, I should add) that his story about his fatherís brother is incomplete without something for comparison.
The family tree that Camello illustrates and Hurd narrates is where I first realized how great this book really is. Much like the last issue of True Story, Swear to God where Tom Beland was more honest about himself to an audience of complete strangers than I would ever have to balls to be (and if you know what Iím referring to, thatís an unintentional pun), Hurd displays a remarkable openness about what would be a ďdark family secretĒ for some. That honesty, as well as a willingness to engage in open sentimentality, carries the story along for the course of the book, despite the fact that there is almost no plot or conflict to speak of (the story concerns a family meeting regarding what should be done about the family patriarch, Hurdís 90-year old grandfather). There is simply Jeff and Damon, Damonís memories and emotions, his hopes for tomorrow and his long-lost dreams, and a realization about the reality of adulthood.
In the end, My Uncle Jeff is a story with nigh-universal appeal, since it seems to me that even people with Norman Rockwell homes can relate to some portion of the story. I have nothing but respect for the authorís complete willingness to bare his history to his audience and I look forward to further work from him.