Skyscrapers of the Midwest

Writer(s): Joshua W. Cotter
Artist(s): Joshua W. Cotter
Publisher: AdHouse Books
ISBN: 978-0977030477
Price: $19.95
Page count: 288
Year Released: 2008
Status: in print
Original Source: Skyscrapers of the Midwest 1-4
Other Collected Edition(s): n/a
Genres: autobiography; coming of age; magic realism; short stories; teen/young adult
Recommended for Fans Of:
Possibly Objectionable Material: coarse language; violence
If You Like This Book, Try: Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth; Summer Blonde: Stories; Too Cool to Be Forgotten
Also in This Series: n/a

Plot Summary
Although everyone in the book is portrayed by an anthropomorphic cat, Skyscrapers of the Midwest is clearly an autobiographical story. Standing in for the author is an unpopular, nameless fifth-grader who loves robots and comic books. The first sequence sets the tone for the rest of the book: Waiting to be picked for a kickball team in the schoolyard, he ends up not being picked at all because the teams are already even and none of the other boys want him on their team anyway. So he plays by himself with his toy robot, and daydreams that another robot the size of a building attacks the playground. When the most popular kid in school (who also happens to be one of the kickball team captains) tries to defeat the robot and is subsequently crushed underfoot, our unnamed hero transforms into Nova Stealth and saves the school, much to the delight of all the cute girls. But his reverie is broken by the kickball landing at his feet and the kids taunting him. In defiance, he kicks the ball away from the players, who continue calling him names.

The book is filled with other, equally painful instances of adolescent trauma, such as being laughed at for having diarrhea on a Boy Scout camping trip, losing a grandmother, getting kicked in the groin by the girl he has a crush on, and so forth. One of the more affecting sequences takes place on the main character's birthday, and it can be read here (for the time being, anyway).

Skyscrapers of the Midwest also features the boy's younger brother, Jeffrey (the name of the author's actual brother), who is significantly more carefree and not yet troubled by his affection for his stuffed dinosaur, Rex. It is through Jeffrey's eyes that many of the book's more fanciful events take place, including a flying cow that he takes on a gleeful aerial bombing run, which results in the utter destruction of his elementary school, his family's church, and the house of some kid named Levi, whom he hates.

My Own 2 Cents
Joshua Cotter's work is very similar to the works of Joe Matt, Chester Brown, and particularly Chris Ware in that self-loathing, painfully autobiographical sort of way. Skyscrapers of the Midwest is a morose book, and more like Ware's Jimmy Corrigan than Matt's Fair Weather in its use of fantasy sequences and metacomic elements (such as fabricated letters columns) to punctuate the sadness that inhabits practically every panel of the work. One significant difference, however, is that Ware's metacomic elements are an exercise in style, whereas much of the metacomic material in Skyscrapers seems to have been generated from Cotter's sincere love of the art form, and of a desire to recreate the experience he had when first reading the comics of his youth (specifically, the Marvel comics of the mid- to late '80s).

Skyscrapers may not be as strong a work as, say, Jimmy Corrigan, but as Cotter's first published work it's incredibly good. I recommend it highly, and I look forward to reading his next book.