There’s so much hipster in this book, you’d be forgiven for thinking you hear The Decemberists pouring forth when you crack the spine, like a greeting card. I fully expected to read that it was printed on fair trade hemp paper and scented with cumin and cedar chips.
The story of a tattooed dad with a French pixie wife whose toddler wants to know the stories behind his tattoos, Tell Me A Tattoo Story walks through each piece of body art, with the dad relating the reason behind it. The stories are expectedly emotionally manipulative, but that’s to be forgiven, I suppose. What actually bothers me, personally, is the one-sided conversation structure of the copy. I hate this convention. Honestly, I hate it. It’s not natural. It has no flow. “Did she read it to me over and over and over? She sure did.” If the second character is able to ask questions, have them ask questions… If not, make the text a monologue. Do people really talk in questions and answers? No, they don’t. And for good reason.
Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations are clean and lovely, with a muted palette. Excellent work.
Considering the vast levels of hipster-dom contained within Tell Me A Tattoo Story, the book is surprisingly lacking in irony. Is it sweet and sincere? Absolutely. Some might think too much so, but for the most part it works surprisingly well.
Hot on the heels of last year’s Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too), Keith Negley drops the tale of a dad who used to be in a punk band with a mohawk, but now vacuums and drives an SUV. His son suspects his dad used to be fun, but can’t quite picture it.
Negley is flawless at what he does: Illustrations filled with big, bold blocks of colour accompanying stories meant to depict a 21st century ideal of masculinity and fatherhood. He doesn’t do bumbling fathers. He doesn’t do emotional unavailability. He does dads who love their kids and men who feel, and thank God for it. (Coincidentally, in the same package My Dad Used to Be Cool came in, we also received a copy of Sam Hay’s up-coming Do Not Wash This Bear… It’s good and we’ll review it, but we couldn’t help but wonder “Why does the dad have to be such an idiot?”)
Negley might never break through to the extent of someone like Eric Carle, but that’s like comparing Shuggie Otis to John Denver. One makes the soccer moms happy and sells boatloads, but the other made magic. (Negley is Shuggie Otis in this equation…)
Despite a terrible cover design, A is for Artisanal is a perfectly illustrated tour through the new ABCs… You know, the ABCs that kids with names like Uma, Quinn or Yoshi will need to get by: Unitarian Universalist, quinoa and yoga instead of unicorn, quilt and yellow. It’s surprisingly clever; I suspected initially that this would be one of those “satirical” books that doesn’t hold any humour past its concept (Go the Fuck to Sleep, I’m looking your way), but Matthew Goldenberg picks apart his target with the razor-sharp precision that can come only from genuine affection or total disdain. (I’m not sure it matters which.)
In all likelihood, A is for Artisanal will only ever be purchased as an ironic baby shower gift for hipster parents, but it’s one of the few of those that might warrant a few reads down the road as well.
Kinderlit.ca requested and received copies of Tell Me A Tattoo Story and My Dad Used to Be So Cool in exchange for honest reviews; we were given A is for Artisanal as a gift, despite the fact that we are not hipsters… Read about our Review Policy here.