Everything is Its Own Reward by Paul Madonna

Everything is Its Own Reward: An All Over Coffee Collection by Paul Madonna was another random library pick up.  I knew nothing about the author/artist or the book until I saw it at the library at started “reading” it.  I was enthralled by this interesting blend of drawing and text from the start and finished it that day and promptly handed it over to my artist wife for her turn.  I love the art and enjoyed the quirky and melancholy reflection that goes with it.

For those, like me, not in the know:

Cover of "All Over Coffee"
Cover of All Over Coffee

All Over Coffee was created in September 2003. That November the strip was picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle and in February 2004 began running 4 days a week; 3 days in the daily Datebook section and Sundays in the Pink section. After a year and a half and 200 daily strips, the strips grew more complex, so went to Sundays only. All Over Coffee still runs in the large format one day a week in the Sunday Pink Section of the Chronicle, on SFGate.com, and The Rumpus. In 2007, after just over 300 published strips, City Lights Books published the first collection in a full color hardcover edition titled All Over Coffee, and in 2010 published the second collection, Everything is its own reward.

I have to agree with the blurb at Amazon:

Entertaining and moving, gorgeous to look at, Madonna’s work remains unique and unclassifiable.

The drawings are a wonderful mix of architecture, landscape and still life; melancholy, peaceful and meditative.  The stories and snippets are both philosophical and whimsical, both optimistic and stoic; with a touch of surreal perhaps.  It is just a perfect combination of art and literature, of text and illustration, to sit down with and get lost in; in a comfy chair or out in the city at a coffee shop.  It takes you to and makes you want to visit cities across the globe but also makes them seem fictional in some sense; a setting of the author’s creation rather than real places to visit and live.

Publishers Weekly:

Madonna captures snapshots in time as he explores the relationship between image and text, with a mixture of single- and multi-panel strips all presented vertically. Completely devoid of people but never of life, each panel revolves around a geographical setting, from recognizable landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge to an anonymous block that’s so gorgeously rendered in Madonna’s precise yet fluid pen-and-ink style, it feels like it could be anywhere and everywhere. The integration of text—from snippets of fiction and autobiography to single sentences stretching across panels—is as deliberate as the pen strokes and ink washes, and as essential to grasping the complete picture. Though there are no conventional narrative arcs, Madonna continually revisits such themes as place and memory as he deconstructs the traditional storytelling elements in this “comic strip without the comic, whose main and only character [is] setting.”

Evan Karp at Litseen:

If you don’t know, the series establishes scene as the main character in images devoid of humans or cars. Often a cityscape of some sort, with lush architecture and mesmerizing details, the frames exude a stillness that is preternatural. In various ways, Madonna then incorporates text into the images—the only place that humans are manifested in this work. A combination of aphorisms, autobiographical stories, flash fiction, and thoughts—including both questions and answers, and even mini manifestos on the creative process—the words in the AOC series weave together a narrative as thrilling and revelatory and endless and humbling as an aimless walk through the city. And to read through each page is to occupy a space left for us to inhabit. Everything Is Its Own Reward is more than a book; it’s a life philosophy articulated by a beautiful body of work.

Laura Miler at Salon:

You don’t have to have lived in or loved San Francisco to fall under the spell of Madonna’s mysterious and largely unpeopled cityscapes. San Francisco isn’t the only place he draws with the miraculously exquisite attention on display here (Paris, Rome and Buenos Ares also appear) but something about the fog off the bay makes it particularly well suited to his dreamy and surprisingly emotional pen-and-ink images.

If you are interested in comics and drawing with a unique twist, or just fascinated by art and literature, I would recommend checking out Paul Madonna and All Over Coffee.  I plan to check out the other volumes and enjoy more of this unique talent.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.