Ice Cream Man #22
It's Christmas in Ice Cream Man land! What a merry time. This year, we're focused on one family, with a particular emphasis on 18 year old Julie. She's received an advent calendar, which is most exciting. A gift awaits each new day as Julie navigates this holiday tale of difficult choices, growing up, the crawling of insects, and how it feels to be stalked by ducks.
Ice Cream Man is perhaps the most difficult to describe or review book I’ve ever attempted to, well, describe or review. It is also probably my favorite book currently running. These points are not unrelated, either – the brilliance of Ice Cream Man is in its blend of genres, and the way it plays with structure, all the while weaving a series of one-and-done stories into a rich tapestry, complete with a slowly evolving metaplot.
All that said, the series can be a little insane, can’t it? At times, I’ve finished an issue and thought, “I have no idea what I just read but it sure was phenomenal.” Despite it’s often distant tone it is at times not unlike song lyrics or abstract artwork, communicating on metaphor and feeling rather than logic. It also demands your full attention, lest you miss the detail that makes it all come together.
Case in point: Ice Cream Man #22, “Advent Calendar.”
The issue follows an 18 year old girl through the 25 difficult days of her holiday season, each day marked with a gift from the eponymous calendar that serves to foreshadow or illuminate the events of the day. It is presented in a strict one day = one page format, with some days paralleling or echoing back to previous days, and thus previous pages. The layout of each page echoes and repeats the other pages as well, lending the issue a certain rhythm and sameness, much like the days of a month – one after the other in a familiar pattern,
Every page begins with a small panel on the upper left showing the day’s gift. The season begins with a chocolate egg – and Julie’s terrified realization that she is pregnant. For the next 24 days, she must confront what this means for her life and how, or if, she is ready to let that life change. Will she carry to term? Should she tell her Catholic mother with the pope poster in her bathroom? What does her boyfriend want to do? Ice Cream Man is often referred to as a horror book, and it is – here, the horror comes from the need to grapple with this most complicated of situations and the truth that regardless of what she does, she’ll have changed once it’s done.
Rick, the titular Ice Cream Man, is mostly absent from this issue, though his presence is made known in various ways. Caleb, Rick’s opposite and foil, does reappear… and in a rather surprising role. So the cosmic dance keeps going, and going.
Prince’s presentation of this suburban teenager’s life is as strange and unnerving as Ice Cream Man has generally been. However, at its heart “Advent Calendar” is the profoundly human story of Julie’s experience with an unplanned pregnancy. Not only that, it is a story told through Julie’s eyes, through which the world becomes confusing and unsettling. Even so, Prince does not imply that Julie is wrong for being sexually active, or for feeling unready to become a parent. Instead, her situation is simply expressed with honesty and without judgment: This is Julie, and this is her life, where she is, how she feels about it, and how the world looks through the lens of those feelings.
Morazzo’s artwork and O’Halloran’s pastel creamy colors are, as always, the perfect partners to one another and to Prince’s words. In their hands, the world is part storybook part anxiety attack – a peaceful suburb with sticky dark matter hiding just beneath the surface. That darkness shows from time to time in the too wide eyes, the frantic expressions. Julie’s mother is in a near constant state of maniacal cheer as she flits about caroling and pushing others to share her holiday spirit with the kind of aggressive good intent that borders on bullying. And everywhere Julie goes, she is shadowed by ducks.
I seem to remember W. Maxwell Prince speculating that Ice Cream Man may be drifting toward a close soon, and I can’t stress enough how much this thought makes me want to rend my garments and shout “Nooooo!” to the heavens beneath a thundering sky. There’s nothing else on the stands quite like it, and precious little in the back issue bins, for that matter, But…it’s fine, I’m prepared. After all, with Ice Cream Man, there’s a gift every issue, and every issue is a gift.
A haunting and profoundly emotional look at a young girl's life as she struggles with secrets and fears during the holiday season, "Advent Calendar" is yet another excellent entry in the impeccable Ice Cream Man record.
Ice Cream Man #22: Gospel Means Good News!
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 9.5/109.5/10
Color - 9.5/109.5/10
Cover Art - 9/109/10
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