Cry Yourself to Sleep
Jeremy Tinder, writer/artist
Top Shelf Productions, 2006
Originally written on July 23, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal
Try to contain your surprise: This book from Top Shelf contains cute, anthropomorphized animals! Gee, I hope you were sitting down. Ah, I kid because I love, of course. And while it is true that Top Shelf has returned to that Chunky Rice sweet spot many a time since Craig Thompson knocked one out of the park with it years ago, Jeremy Tinder’s Cry Yourself to Sleep distinguishes itself by, well, distinguishing itself. It doesn’t go in for the cute-overload of a Spiral-Bound, nor for the tremulous quasi-mysticism of a Pulpatoon Pilgrimage (the AdHouse Books effort that of all post-Chunky “Manimals’ Search for Meaning” books feels most like a Craig Thompson cover band). It mainly sets out to be funny, and quite happily, it succeeds.
It’s a slight volume with a slight plot: Over the course of a couple of days, three pretty much adorable characters intended as stand-ins for the book’s twentysomething target audience–a guy named Andy, a rabbit named Jim, and a robot named The Robot–struggle with three early-life crises–Andy’s novel is rejected by a publisher, Jim gets fired from his job, and The Robot realizes he’s a soulless jerk. A pair of pages in which three successive, nearly identical panels tie each of the characters’ stories together bookend the book. But to his credit, Tinder’s emphasis is not on setting up an overly neat ‘n’ sweet parallel structure, but on the comedic potential of how the individual stories ramble their way to their respective conclusions. Andy’s story in particular is peppered with amusing digressions: an interlude in which a little kid sports a fake handlebar moustache in an ill-fated attempt to browse the adult section in the video store where Andy works, another in which Andy’s friend Nate (who happens to be a little bear who wears glasses) advises him to spice up his novel by inserting a completely unrelated misadventure experienced by Nate’s menopausal mom. Sure, both scenes have that “well, this is my first graphic novel, and these are really funny, so I’m getting them in there come hell or high water” feeling to them–especially the menopause story, which is pitched to Andy for precisely that reason–but Tinder pulls it off with keen pacing and exceptional cartooning (his character designs are easily the strongest funny-animal work being done in this vein today–check out poor hot-flashing Joan Bear’s furrowed brow and preposterous hair). The fact that his jokes are actually funny is obviously key. Unemployed rabbit Jim gets the best of them when he’s fired from his job at a sandwich shop for getting fur in the subs, complains that the latex gloves he’s supposed to wear don’t fit him because he doesn’t have fingers, then gets reprimanded by his (human) father for “play[ing] the species card.” The Robot’s got some rock-solid moments as well. His entire quest to become as free as a (literal) bird reads like a good-natured roast of such alternative comics tropes, and in the lachrymose sequence that gives the book its title, you’ll notice that there’s no tears to be found on his metal face–robots can’t cry, duh. An occasional hint of mawkishness creeps may creep through now and then (that by-the-numbers romantic subplot at Andy’s video store, for example), but overall the saccharine level is refreshingly low. The goal of Cry is simple: to make you smile. Mission accomplished.