Ninety Candles
By Neil Kleid
Published by Rant Comics; $5.95 USD
Diamond Order Code JUL04 3096 (listed in the July Previews, arriving in shops in September)

Here's a sui generis look at the life of one gifted cartoonist and the challenges and compromises he faces over the course of nine decades. Kleid's story takes the form of 90 single images, each representing one moment in consecutive years of cartoonist Kevin Hall's life. The effect is not unlike what might happen if Chris Ware were to have created The Family Circus, that's about as apt a comparison as I can come up with.

A much-deserved Xeric Award winner, Ninety Candles kind of follows from a theory of life that I have considered from time to time...that each of our lives represents infinite possibilities at birth, but that each consecutive choice we make (or have made for us) whittles down all the remaining possibilities until, at last, there's only one possibility left -- the last one, of course, being exactly the same as everyone else's -- just like the infinite possibilities at the beginning, come to think of it.

Kevin's parents think, at a year old, that perhaps Kevin will play basketball or be an athlete. Interestingly, his first interest in art makes "Mommy...very angry." As most creative people know, their creativity is often -- that is to say almost always -- at odds with the needs and desires of their family and friends. Kleid seems to know well the price that artists pay to work at their art, and convincingly portrays the price Kevin pays throughout his life.

Kleid's story masterfully depicts an entire life through these 90 snapshots -- all you need to know about Kevin's life, one crushing defeat or soaring victory at a time. We see joy, possibility, potential, regret and the renewal of hope throughout Kevin's life, highlighted by familiar references and moments that will resonate with any longtime comics reader. That's not to say the story is an industry in-joke, though -- I'd imagine someone who never picked up a comic in their life would still be moved by Kleid's unusual gift for economic storytelling. After reading the book I was surprised to learn that, according to Kleid, "Ninety Candles is a completely improvisational comic book -- no script, no net." That he could create such a complex and satisfying work while making it up as he went along makes Ninety Candles all that much more impressive.

About the most unique graphic novel I've read so far this year, Ninety Candles is a delightful introduction to Kleid's cartooning and at six bucks, is one hell of a bargain. Preview some pages from Ninety Candles here. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Alan David Doane

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