Some books are timely, in that they are published at totally the right moment. Dietland by Sarai Walker, for example, with its angry activists fed up with waiting to be treated like humans. Other books reflect a bygone time but still feel relevant, like Mimi Pond’s Over Easy, a smartly written look at 1970s youth culture. Then there are books that are walking on ground so trodden by previous works that the path is practically covered in road markers on how to go about things. Cannonball by Kelsey Wroten is such a work.
Published in 2019, Cannonball is a graphic novel that offers nothing new or unique. A twenty-two year-old lesbian named Caroline has graduated from college and is trying to be a writer. The back of the book says the character is an “art school graduate,” which I thought meant painting, drawing, etc., so I was confused. Her best friend, Penelope, likes to remind Caroline what a stuck-up Jerk Caroline is.
And it’s true. Caroline has zero perspective but always plays the victim. Though she has a crap apartment, she refuses an offer to apply as a copywriter because “I dunno man, that’s not for me. I’ve got my novel to think about.” Ugh. It’s easy to hate Caroline, so it’s hard to get invested in her story. I chose to DNF Cannonball at 50 pages. A published author has a platform to speak a truth, even in fiction, and authors who reinforce stereotypes instead are the worst. Caroline is exactly the person older generations hate when they think about twenty-somethings today.
There are already so many better-crafted books about artists trying to become adults, ones that explore alcohol and drug use just the same, ones with the jaded best friend and the protagonist who is the creator of her own demise but wants pity for her self-loathing. And I guess I just don’t care about people who are twenty-two and lament being young “old.” Because Caroline does.
Wroten might have done something interesting with her well-trodden plot if she had been more innovative with her drawing style and color choices. Instead, the drawings look lazy, there is an awkward color palette of golden-rod/red-orange/hazy blue that didn’t make sense to me. Penelope looks like Charlie Brown meets Mr. Potato Head sans mustache. I didn’t get it.
If you’re looking for a graphic novel with queer people at the center, I’d recommend Fun Home by Allison Bechdel. If you want a graphic novel about art school, try Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer. And for a look at young people who are not innocent but have interesting personalities to read about, try both Over Easy and the follow-up book The Customer is Always Wrong by Mimi Pond.