James Kochalka’s The Sketchbook Diaries,
James Kochalka’s Sketchbook Diaries Volume Two,
James Kochalka’s Sketchbook Diaries Volume Three
& James Kochalka’s Sketchbook Diaries Volume Four

Kochalka Sketch 1     Kochalka Sketch 2

James Kochalka, for many in the comics community, is a polarizing figure.  Some loathe his affected cutesiness, his clutching need to be loved by all, his complete self-absorption, the utter mindlessness of it all.  Others find these exact same qualities endearing.

One thing, however, is indisputable: James Kochalka possesses a natural facility with a drawing brush and ink; he knows what a line is and what to do with it; he knows how to use blacks and whites to offset one another in visually pleasing compositions, and he is learning to do the same with color.  In short,  James Kochalka is, at the very least, a self-motivated artist of no little talent with a half-decent work ethic; a combination that makes him difficult to ignore in a field as small as independently produced alternative comics, regardless of anyone’s opinion.

It is true that his more formal/normal works offer a superior aesthetic experience, but The Sketchbook Diaries are his most interesting and engaging works, and give readers the most for their money.  Each volume contains 100 (if you count the covers) 8” x 8” saddle-stitched pages .  Each consists of 380 individual daily diary entries, printed four to a page.  Each volume of The Sketchbook Diaries, if you stop and think about it, is a lot like a Giant-Size Comics Annual that collects a year’s worth of a very personal daily comic strip.  Each daily diary-entry/strip is rendered in a square format, most consisting of a sequence of four square panels; but there are plenty of deviations from and variations on this basic arrangement.  

It would be easy to fault these books for their tunnel vision focus on a mindless minutiae of quotidian quibbles that could be dispensed with with no more than a shrug of the shoulders or a shake of the head.  It is possible, on the other hand, to be fascinated by the continual probing of obsessions in what appears to be a cycle of variations on a single theme; or, looking closer, to find an attempt to trace the contours of that obscure object of desire, or perhaps an expression of one man’s quest to locate the core of his being and discover how and upon what his spirit is grounded on the earthly plane.  Easiest of all, however, would be to just look at the funny pictures and laugh.

The jury's still out on the question of Kochalka's comics.  As to whether they are merely mindless entertainment or something more, we'll just have to wait and see.  For the time being they are, in any event, pleasant to read; and none are more so than the sketchbook diaries, which, if he manages to keep at it, will, in all likelihood, grow to become his major artistic testament; for better or for worse.

retail price - $7.95@
price - $6.75@
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setsuper special - all four volumes
retail price - $31.80
price - $14.95@

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or there's this route...

American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries of James Kochalka, October 26, 1998 to December 31, 2003
By James Kochalka
with an introduction by Moby (in comics form!)
THUD!  That's the sound this book makes when dropped under the tree.  It's a big, fat book, and it will take awhile to go through it. This volume collects all four of the original sketchbook diaries, PLUS a whole extra year, AND has a bonus 32 page (16 in the front, and 16 in the back) color supplement of all new material.  The Sketchbook Diaries are a unique work and this collection is a great value.  Over the past five years James Kochalka's Sketchbook Diary -- apearing as American Elf on the web -- has been quietly creating a revolution in the daily comic strip form every bit as important as that of Schulz's Peanuts  fifty years earlier.  Really.
retail price - $29.95  copacetic special price - $19.95

And in case you don't already know:  You can catch Kochalka's Sketchbook Diary "Live" at his site  www.americanelf.com.  It's free to read each day, but if you want to have access to the archives, or would just like to show your support, you can subscribe for $1.95 a month.

And, also now available:  American Elf Book 2: 2004 - 2005

more comics by Kochalka

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prices and availablity current as of 10 March 2007