Bluffton

My Summers With Buster
by Matt Phelan
First sentence: “Life in Muskegon, Michigan was quiet.”
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Content: Nothing. Nada. Not a bit. Perfectly fine for graphic novel/history buffs of all ages. Resides in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore.

The thing I like best about Matt Phelan — aside from his gorgeous art; it’s so very unlike anything else being drawn out there — is the way he takes historical events (like traveling around the world, or the Dust Bowl) and turns them into something… intriguing.

This time out is probably the most successful — for me, at least — of his books. It’s about the summers Buster Keaton and his family spent on Lake Michigan outside Muskegon. Now, in spite of being a Michigander (of sorts; I claim it mostly because my parents are still there), I’ve never been to that side of the state, and had no idea that Buster Keaton (!) summered on the lake.

And that discovery was part of the overall charm of the book. It’s nominally about a local boy, Henry, and his dislike of being “stuck” in Muskegon (even in 1908) and how dull, ordinary, everyday it all was until the day when the vaudeville performers showed up. Henry goes out to their compound by the lake, affectionately name “Cobwebs and Rafters”, and becomes intrigued by the antics of Buster. They become friends, of a sort, pulling pranks, playing baseball, but Buster refuses to teach Henry any of his “tricks”. That doesn’t stop Henry… determined, he tries out things on his own. (And doesn’t succeed terribly well. I think this was done to emphasize just how talented Buster was.)

My only complaint is that I don’t think Phelan quite knew how to end it. Instead of being the story of one summer, it’s the story of many summers over the course of many years. Henry grows up, stays put, and opens a movie theater. I’m not quite sure what the purpose of this was. Maybe to show that Buster grew into someone famous? Perhaps. It did take away from the fun of the first summer, the joy of meeting someone new, someone unique.

It’s worth taking a look at for the art, though. And for the joy of that first summer.

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