A year ago, I reviewed Paul Madonna’s beautiful book All Over Coffee, a collection of strips from the San Francisco Daily Chronicle. They consisted of beautiful, detailed, sepia-tone and ink-wash drawings of San Francisco, accompanied by text — brief thoughts, or ideas, or drifts of overheard conversation, most of which had no relation to the drawings. This year, for my birthday, I received Madonna’s second collection, called Everything Is Its Own Reward, and one of my best birthday presents was allowing myself the time to sit on the couch and read the entire thing at once.
Madonna’s technique has stretched in some ways from the last volume. These drawings are exquisite, mostly monochrome portraits of a city he loves: buildings, street corners, shop windows, gables, cornices, sculptures. His format is no longer the three-panel format of a daily strip, however; he’s gone to Sunday strips only, so he does full-page drawings that allow for more scope. There are more cities this time, too: it’s still mostly San Francisco, but he’s added travels to Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Cleveland, Paris. He’s stretched his technique, as well, so some strips incorporate text right into the drawing: tiny words that make up power lines, for instance, or text that you find in sprouting grass between sidewalk cracks.
In some other ways, though, I missed the first volume. My favorite strips are always the ones that offer little stories of some kind: overheard conversation, or something told to us about a friend or a passerby. Those windows into human nature are gorgeous and compassionate and fascinating, and there’s slightly less of this in this book. Madonna is clearly struggling with his art, and what he wants to be (they’ll tell you if it’s pretty it ain’t art, he says), and his own epiphanies are thick on the pages, including the title: everything is its own reward. The trouble is that if you’re not quite in the same place in your life, it doesn’t feel like quite as much of an epiphany, and the flash of insight isn’t quite as bright.
Still, the art is glorious, and there’s enough there — enough literature, so to speak, enough connections to human nature — to keep me glued to the pages. I strongly recommend these books, and this one comes with a poster! How can you resist?