‘Fictional Father’ by Joe Ollmann – Sonny Side Up

‘Fictional Father’, a graphic novel, by Joe Ollmann    (2021) – 192 pages


Whereas other publishers’ comics are loud and violent and repetitive with their endless stockpile of superheroes and super-villains, the Montreal, Canada publishing house Drawn and Quarterly produces comics and graphic novels that are subtle, moody, nuanced, and human. These are graphic novels that could actually qualify as fiction and literature.

‘Fictional Father’ is about a cartoonist who is very famous and beloved for his daily comic strip ‘Sonny Side Up’ which features an adoring father and his little boy, but in real life the cartoonist is actually a terrible father.

The critics of the comic strip say, “Who knew that the relationship of a father and son could be so dog-gone funny? And heartfelt?”, yet the real cartoonist father locks himself up in his home office and never has any time for his kid.

Along the way in this amusing story we get a lot of commentary on the state of the newspaper comic strip industry (not good) and the famous comic strips and their makers: Dennis the Menace by Hank Ketcham, Peanuts by Charles Schultz, the Family Circus by Bill Keane, Hi and Lois, Blondie, even Dilbert and others. Nobody reads newspapers anymore, so apparently the future is in graphic novels.

The son is grown up now, trying to make it as an artist (not a comic book artist), and living with his boyfriend James. There are all these unresolved issues from his childhood and from his parents that intrude. And then his father, the famous comic strip artist, dies. Should the son take over for his father and continue the daily comic strip ‘Sonny and Me’? He could do it, but should he?

His roommate and partner tells him,

It’s pathetic, fretting over how many Likes you get. Jesus, I’m embarrassed even saying “Likes…”

You’re a grown man, Cal. Are you really that desperate?”

‘Fictional Father’ is a fine example of the humor, the artwork, and the depth of story that can be achieved in the graphic novel. It has a cohesive plot, well-defined characters, vivid scene-setting, and at times is a laugh riot.


Grade:    A




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