All the Right Moves in 'All the Wrong Places'

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Take the bucket seat out of your old Chevy, put it on a wood frame in the middle of a field and sit in it. Now you know what it feels like to read Tom Galambos' comix novella "All the Wrong Places" (Laszlo Press; 74pg; $14.95). Nathan, the protagonist, sits in his Chevy couch a lot. He does it on the cover. It must feel internal yet expansive, comforting yet lonely — exactly like reading this thoughtful book.

Nathan, an only child, cares for his ill mother at home in an unnamed state. Once on a thriving farm, the house now sits in a giant, fallow field, isolated except for the occasional visitor. Chief among these is the narrator, Richard, Nathan's best friend and a bit of a moralizer, and Jessica, the friend that Nathan has a secret crush on, but who's engaged to another. Things change suddenly for Nathan when Jessica sleeps with him, but has severe morning-after regrets. As if this weren't alienating enough for Nathan, his mother passes away in her sleep. Nathan's emotional ground moves under him and he tries desperately to stay upright. This crisis becomes the focus of the book and you can't help but worry about the poor guy.

While Galambos' black and white pen drawings at times seem a little scratchy and lacking in polish, he has a nice sense of design. He mixes up his layouts and keeps the experience of reading always stimulating even if the events being depicted are simple. One page will be a big panel with three small insets, followed by a zig-zag of panels down the page, followed by all verticals. You could look at this book from across the room and enjoy it. Galambos teaches art in Rochester, New York, but by all rights he should be making a living at comix instead.

"All the Wrong Places," has a quiet contemplation about it that comes as much from the actions of the story as from the portrayal of those actions. A typical moment goes like this: in the midst of Nathan explaining his mother's deterioration Richard bends over, saying, "Nathan..." Grabbing a blob in the grass, he continues saying, " dropped a sock." Nathan, with laundry basket in hand, takes the sock and says, "Thanks." This seemingly pointless, interfering sequence could be mistaken for a waste of three panels. But really it's a gift; an act of artistic generosity.

Galambos has narratively re-created the space of Nathan's environs. Nathan lives in an empty farm with no visible neighbors. It makes sense that a story about his life would involve sequences of just looking. It's almost magic the way Galambos packs in so much emotional action into a mere 76 pages while taking lots of time-outs for iced tea and sitting down. He uses the unique visual pacing of comix to insert moments that force us into Nathan's state of mind. At one point Nathan says to Jessica, "I'm sorry if you get bored, it seems that all we do is sit around." "No. It's not boring. Sometimes it's good just to sit," she replies.

"All the Wrong Places," has the gravity of serious fiction. There are no fistfights or wisecracks or oddball events or wacky characters. While it could have collapsed under the weight of pretentiousness, it has such solid supports of narrative technique, design and artfulness as to let you walk right in. Tom Galambos has succeeded in producing a meaningful, thoughtful comix work without a hint of irony. Go sit by yourself somewhere and read it.

"All the Wrong Places" can be found at superior comicbook stores