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Drawing Conclusions: Welcome to the Cartoon Issue

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  • James Kochalka | Rev. Diane Sullivan

Berkeley Breathed's long-running comic strip "Bloom County" has lately delighted fans with a special cameo: Hobbes, the tiger from Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes." Published on Facebook, the strips portray Hobbes just as he was in Watterson's beloved strip — a mischievous stuffed tiger who sometimes comes to life. But rather than manifest through Calvin's imagination, Hobbes appears in the fictitious hamlet of Bloom County to Opus, the talking penguin — who initially dismisses the talking tiger as a hallucinatory side effect of a COVID-19 vaccine.

For anyone who grew up reading those comics in newspapers in the 1980s and '90s, Breathed's online crossover strips are a nostalgic and subversive treat. Will Opus track down Calvin, now presumably an adult, to reunite Hobbes with his childhood pal? If so, what will grown-up Calvin be like? Do we really wanna want to know? And where the hell is Bloom County's own resident deranged feline, Bill the Cat?

Breathed has captivated the imaginations of generations of fans with those new strips while smuggling in a dose of his signature social commentary. Such is the power of comics: They transfix and transport readers in ways other storytelling mediums often can't.

Broadly speaking, that's why Seven Days produces a Cartoon Issue each year. Sure, any of the stories in the following pages could have been reported and written traditionally. Presented in graphic form, however, they shimmer through the lenses of talented artists, who see the material differently from reporters.

For instance, in the cartoon collaboration of writer Sally Pollak and artist Michael Tonn, the drawings immerse readers in the whirlwind ride that is day-tripping through Guster singer Ryan Miller's "weird and wonderful" Vermont.

Comics can also distill confusing topics to their essence and make them easier to understand. Health and Wealth: A Graphic Guide to the US Healthcare System, a new comic book from Vermont's Center for Cartoon Studies, aims to make sense of America's byzantine system of medical care.

Speaking of distilling, writer Jordan Barry and artist Coco Fox break down the basics of a new law that allows to-go cocktails for two more years. So there's at least one good thing that came out of the pandemic.

If your Tesla breaks down on the way to Pro Pig for takeout Manhattans, you might call Mann & Machine in Richmond. As writer Ken Picard and artist Emily Rhain Andrews relate, it's one of only a few non-dealership garages licensed to work on electric vehicles in Vermont.

Few Vermonters had as many great stories to tell as the late Daisy Turner, the 104-year-old Grafton resident whose parents escaped slavery in Virginia. Artist Ezra Veitch shared with me some insights drawn from working with other cartoonists on a new graphic collection of Turner's tales published by the Vermont Folklife Center.

Of course, cartoons can also be the perfect vehicles for humor. Writer and new Vermonter Steve Goldstein and artist Ivy Lynn Allie recount a sometimes harrowing and often humorous transition from city life to the Green Mountains.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Drawing Conclusions | Writer-cartoonist teams add dimension to Vermont tales"