Originally published in 2003, this collection of short pieces has been updated and expanded with new material and introductions to preface each story or comic. The stories range from the fantastic to the everyday: some are simply slices of life that feature activities like eating, shopping, etc., while others, such as “The Flight,” are about a cat getting feathers from birds in exchange for soup, then planting the feathers and watering them until they grow large enough for the cat itself to use to fly. A few aren’t stories at all, such as “Bee Comic,” which is an introduction to urban beekeeping, and “Paper Dolls,” which is simply a series of her characters in paper doll format.
All the stories are very short, and focus on themes of friendship, exchanges, and everyday joys. The nonfiction pieces are varied, and include a short book synopsis called “Book Tribute” and a travel account called “Mexico City,” in addition to the “Bee Comic” and “Paper Dolls” sections mentioned above. This choice of very gentle material may be the reason Varon is marketed for kids, but the events and emotions are so universal that they can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. The introductions give the backstory for each comic: sometimes they were inspired by events in Varon’s life, sometimes they were the products of drawing exercises in classes she took, and sometimes they were reflecting some inspiration she got from another artist’s work. Most often, they’re a combination of these.
Varon uses speech bubbles relatively rarely and doesn’t use thought bubbles at all. For most of her stories, she entirely relies on her deceptively simple artwork to depict her characters’ thoughts and feelings. In some instances, she uses a combination of free text and small illustrations in panels to tell her story or convey her information, almost like a picture book. Often, her stories are almost completely wordless, with the exception of well-chosen environmental print like signs and newspaper headlines.
Varon’s artwork has a distinctive visual style. She says in her introduction that her “drawing style and choice of materials have evolved a little over the years” and that is true, but anyone familiar with her previous books will immediately see that this is a Varon product. Her characters have round bodies and faces (so much so that sometimes the reader isn’t sure if the character is a cat, a dog, or some other kind of animal—not that it matters much in this book) long skinny limbs, and the absolute minimum amount of detail needed for the reader to distinguish them from one another. In fact, Varon is very good at providing exactly enough detail in the art to support the story, and not one line or shape more.
Readers aged 7-12 who enjoyed Bake Sale and Robot Dreams will find plenty to like here, though the short story format is a departure from those previous works. Also, budding comic artists will find some good exercise and activity ideas in her introductions, making this of particular interest to young art enthusiasts.
Sweaterweather: & Other Short Stories
by Sara Varon
First Second, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 7-12