As their name implies, the comic book publisher Alternative Comics is not your typical publishing house. Their comics and ideas deviate from the norm, so it comes as no surprise that The Cute Manifesto does not resemble your average graphic novel. In it, James Kochalka designs a philosophical yet whimsical collection of five different comic books and two personal statements on topics such as cuteness, reactions to September 11, 2001, the purpose of art, and the catch-22 of video games.
The Cute Manifesto generates its ingenuity and creativity from its quixotic and philosophical ideas. Though the art doesn’t seem particulary impressive, some contrasting panels come through as exotic and provocative. Kochalka’s simple presentation juxtaposed with his deep demeanor allows readers to dwell long and hard about the words being said and focus on panels that don’t overwhelm the viewer.
“Sunburn,” the first story, waxes poetic on the connections of the body and mind; where does one begin and the other end? The title piece, “The Cute Manifesto,” strives to uphold cuteness as the highest esteem of beauty. Even hinting at socio-evolutionary theory, Kochalka argues that cuteness is where it’s at and is the true beauty within us all. This piece is a bit more text-laden than most of the others, but the images presented are still intriguing. The last piece, “The Horrible Truth About Comics,” debates the difference of art and illustration. Kochalka puts forth that art represents thought processes and illustration is mere mimicry.
“Reinventing Everything Part I” bemoans the popularity of video games and the mindset of a player. Kachalka reveals his jealousy for the explosion of the video console in the last thirty years:
“There’s an incredible connection between the ‘player’ and the ‘game.’ This is the kind of visceral impact that painters can only dream of eliciting with their work.” “Reinventing Everything Part II “takes things in a different direction. In reaction to the tragic September 11 attacks, Kochalka realizes that the only way to respond to such dark events is with something positive and wonderful. He and his partner decide to have a baby, and the comic follows the course of their lives as they adjust to bringing a child into the world. The final conclusion rests in the last panel, “Don’t fight life,” but rather embrace it.
At its core, The Cute Manifesto fights to determine if there can be any objectivity in the identification of a great comic book. Regardless of technical ability, how does a comic artist manifest art that will effectively express the fullness of his message? Though he has no actual answer to give, his expression of frustration over the question and its underlying meaning, in fact, raise his piece to the realm of great works.
The Cute Manifesto makes you think. Those who don’t like to overwork the mind while engaging in entertainment should refrain from taking a look at it. However, those bold enough to dig deeper meaning out of pop culture would do well to spend some time with this graphic novel.