Fictional fathers don’t come in very interesting flavors. More often than not, they’re well-intentioned boobs who can’t handle the smallest domestic or personal crisis without the intervention of their partner. Sometimes they’re defined by their emotional distance from the family, absorbed with providing instead of caring. Or they’re reduced to bland heroism, saving the family from a variety of perils (often making up for years of emotional neglect in the process).
One of the pleasures of Andi Watson’s Little Star (Oni Press) is that it isn’t really about fatherhood. It’s more about parenting, and the conflicting choices and feelings any parent might face as they weigh their needs against those of their child’s.
It’s told from the point of view of Simon, a part-time ceramic painter and primary caregiver for three-year-old Cassie. His wife, Meg, is a full-time teacher. They’ve put their house on the market to look for a larger place. Cassie goes to pre-school three days a week. Simon’s heard about a possible vacancy in his employer’s full-time design team, and he’s tempted by the opportunity.
As Watson tracks the day-to-day activities of caring for Cassie – baths, tantrums, juice boxes, play dates, stories – he looks at the little turning points that seem to be cropping up in Simon’s path. Simon contemplates the balance of his own needs with Cassie’s and Meg’s. He’d like to move forward professionally, but he wonders if it’s fair to Cassie. (He’s also a little bothered by how easily Cassie adjusted to pre-school.) As Cassie seems to need him less, Simon naturally starts contemplating what’s next.
Little Star is a collection of small, telling moments. Watson doesn’t seem to want to make any sweeping statements about the parent-child dynamic, which is a relief. He’s chosen instead to focus on the specific, entirely everyday concerns of Simon, Cassie, and Meg. But despite the slice-of-life aims, Little Star is anything but dull. The familiar choices and challenges matter enormously Watson’s cast, and he’s given them real depth and complexity.
As usual, Watson’s art is lovely in its minimalism and succinct expressiveness. Facial expressions matter a great deal, and Watson excels at them, capturing frustration, bemusement, contemplation, exhaustion, delight, and a host of others. They’re supported by the varied body language of the characters, always clear and specific. Backgrounds and varied shading help create a sense of place and give the visuals added depth. And the covers are lovely flights of fancy. (It’s the covers that convinced me to pick this up in single issues as opposed to waiting for the trade.)
Given the normalcy of the subject matter, the individual issues might seem a bit shapeless. There’s an arc to each chapter, but it’s developed very gently. This is actually supported by the book’s bi-monthly publishing schedule. There’s no cliffhanger urgency to be diluted by extra time between installments, though each issue leaves me wanting to return to the characters and their world because they’re so involving. (That said, I’m guessing the six-issue series will read extremely well in collection. As each new issue has come out, I find myself reading each issue over again.)
The other benefit to reading the individual issues, at least for me, is finding an oasis of believable emotions at the comics shop on a regular basis. With so many high-profile comics predicated on sketchy, even disturbing interpersonal dynamics, Watson’s world of average people and everyday challenges is a welcome respite. Little Star is a smart and sensitive alternative in a summer of histrionics.