Frankenstein Book Report: Cannonball by Kelsey Wroten (Uncivilized Books, 2019)

A well-deserved Lambda Award to the best graphic novel I've read in a long time.

Jurying book awards is interesting. I juried two awards in the last year—the National Book Awards (for Translated Literature) and the Lambda Literary Awards (for Best Graphic Novel/Comics). Jurying a comics award is really interesting, because it’s a medium not a genre, but rare is the platform where a genre-specific comics award in North America isn’t then cleaved by the debates of the marketplace (corporate versus personal; fantasy versus realism; kids versus adults).

That’s why the queer mandate of the Lambda Lit Award provided such an unapologetically precise and deserving lever to our lifting Cannonball (2019, Uncivilized Books) into its throne for the year.

In a manner of speaking, Wroten really deserves a much more universal award—a Pulitzer or a Newberry or National. Her zines were a highlight of the last TCAF I attended. But then again, the queer reader is exactly who this book and its award are meant for. I don’t know if the “general market” deserves Kelsey Wroten. Cannonball—about an understandably shiftless young person finding her way into an artistic persona with drunken bumps along the way—is such a rich and novel expression of the comics medium, in the atmosphere of queer identity, told in such a precisely American way…shit. Maybe I just want to teach it.

I actually don’t have a “Frankenstein” about this book review, in that these book reviews operate on the premise that my brain manufactures cultural touch points to reverse engineer winning descriptions. But let’s take the award as a concept. The plot of Cannonball is also about the animating spirit behind wanting to be awarded and rewarded as an artist. It’s about the treachery of high achievement in the arts while defining and redefining one’s integrity, and so the cultural vehicle I’d say resembling this amazing book is maybe just that Foucaultian order of juried literary awards (god I’m so sorry I just said that but it’s out of my mouth now I refuse to fix it).

It’s so hard to say things like “this was the best version of XYZ thing” and audacious for an award to suggest as much, but the good juries know that, and we sulk, and we debate, and we have long existential conversations about it before we relent to the weight of things that are just phenomenally good.