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American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries, Vol. 1 (American Elf #1)

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  1,049 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
A deluxe compilation of the first five years of James Kochalka's ground breaking daily diary comic strip.
Since October 1998, James Kochalka has kept a daily diary, drawn in comic strip form in his sketchbook. Drawn with relaxed and beautiful brushwork, these strips perfectly capture the rhythm of daily life. From the hilarious to the sad, from the poetic to the drunken, th
Paperback, 496 pages
Published August 10th 2004 by Top Shelf Productions (first published August 3rd 2004)
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Community Reviews

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Sam Quixote
Jul 29, 2011 Sam Quixote rated it it was amazing
Wow no reviews!! Ok, well Meet James Kochalka. At the time this diary starts it's 1998 and he's a fledging comics artist. He lives in Vermont in a flat with his girlfriend Amy. He works part time as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant and Amy works in a school. Each day he draws and writes a 1-4 panel strip about his day. The panels are done in black and white and are about a single moment in that day that stands out for him.

The book is quite large, not quite A4 size but near that, and the pages r
Sep 19, 2007 Jon rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who want to know what comics are capable of achieving
This book is the epitome of deceptively simple. By diligently making a comic a day James Kochalka is able to create a work of art that captures the essence of everyday life while still managing to keep you entertained. Kochalka is a master of making the ordinary into something magical. He is also equal parts cutesy and vulgar. A strange but effective combination. Something for everybody. You'll put your guard down because he'll "play dumb" for awhile and because of the cartoony drawing style but ...more
Jul 17, 2007 MyCab rated it it was amazing
JUly 16, 2007
Terri, my wife, and i actually read this book every night in bed together while she was pregnant with amelia. The book is a pictorial diary that actually catalogs five years of his life. James portrays himself and family as elves. Each daily entry is drawn in a four box summary of any event that took place that day. Kind of Seinfield-esque in the daily entries in that most are really about nothing, but as they build and grow together and you get deeper into the story, you really beg
Marc Weidenbaum
Several things, among them Kochalka being named poet laureate in his native Vermont earlier this year, led me to revisit this great volume of serial quotidian serendipity. Another thing was parenthood. Kochalka's kid's-eye-view on the world may not have an inherent plot, but it does have themes (nature, music, creativity, love, food, and cats among them, often overlapping) and even a climax, when the eternal kid has a kid of his own.
Oct 06, 2009 Ariadne rated it did not like it
I'd read other fiction works by Kochalka and enjoyed them so i though i'd give his autobiographical collection a go. I'm a fan of this idea of writing a comic-journal and I believe Kochalka's intent to 'capture day to day life, to see if there is any pattern' is a good one. However- I am graphically two years into this guys life and utterly bored. I can sum it up for you in three recurring themes:
1) Massive co-dependance on his wife
2) Drinking booze or its (after) affects
3) and I can't decide
I was introduced to American Elf by a friend and have kept reading the daily strips for more than a year now. I really wanted to go back and read the comic from the start, though, and this book is the best way to do it (unless you have many, many hours to spend at your computer). I read this first volume on my lunch breaks, on and off, and it was always such a pick-me-up. I also would find myself thinking about strips later in the day, reflecting on them. I don't know if this is "deep" material, ...more
Megan Kirby
Jul 13, 2016 Megan Kirby rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved this compendium of Kochalka’s early diary comic work. Was especially inspired by the chronicles of his failures—jobs canceled, promises broken. It was really encouraging to hold American Elf in my hands—a collection widely considered to be a paradigm of the diary comic form—and see that Kochalka was plagued with a lot of the same doubts I have as a writer and artist.

I’m a sucker for journal comics, and I love falling into the rhythm of someone’s mundane daily life. American Elf
Dave Riley
Nov 24, 2013 Dave Riley rated it liked it
Shelves: comics
If you want to have the pants charmed off you American Elf has that on offer. It may be the case that nothing really happens day in day out in these sketchbook diaries but celebrating the mundane is all that seems to matter. Look more closely and you'll get a delightful love affair beautifully recorded with yearning and sharing.

A tad too 'indi' perhaps -- as seem a whole personal comic genre -- but then, even though having read one of these seeming autobio comics you may have read them all ---
Amanda Davidson
i'm in an all-caps, screaming-inside kind of mood, because of WORK. if i hadn't broken my ipod during the move, i'd set it to the pixies' "debaser." but this book is making me feel better. you know why? because this guy draws a comic EVERY DAY. that's right. we can too, working people. we can, too. for once upon a time, james kochalka earned a living not (as now) by pen and inkpot, but as a humble waiter, which is when he started drawing these daily panels. take that, food service. take that, th ...more
Mar 11, 2012 Twan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: comics

I'm not shitting you, I love this so much. One of those books that is so good you don't wanna rush through it. The problem with this one is that after reading a few stips, you are hooked like a meth addict and can't stop reading it. Personal, funny, a delight to look at and full of those 'oh shit!' moments where you see the people in the book doing the same stuff you do in your life that were presumed to be unique to yourself.
Ariel Caldwell
Nov 22, 2016 Ariel Caldwell rated it it was ok
I was curious to see what a comic-a-day would look like, from the process perspective. And that's what I got; I saw how a comic-a-day can get ... ordinary. It wasn't really my thing, and I think I wasn't in the mood to "make a new friend," that is, get all personal with a stranger in a one-way situation. That said, I appreciate the commitment that James made to do this thing! For a long time! Through all kinds of changes!
Jun 05, 2007 Isaac rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: just about everyone

If you're going to read James Kochalka you have to let yourself be fooled into thinking that he's a genius, which is preposterous on the face of it. Except that if you put that aside and allow yourself to believe in his genius, it is there, on the page, manifestly in front of you.

Taken one by one his diary strips barely register, but if you read this whole collection in one sitting you will be left with a strange sense of the majestic. A book to make you feel together when apart.
Nov 17, 2007 Paul rated it it was amazing
An honest look at the "small" parts of humanity. If human beings are grand, then there's granduer here, and if humans are petty, then there's pettiness here. Really, though, for the most part, this book is everythig in between. And just the sheer committment of James' daily comic blog is enough to impress me two star's worth, and the other three stars are for his talent.
May 01, 2008 Summer rated it really liked it
I was pleasantly surprised by this collection, as I haven't been very interested in Kochalka's work in the past. He takes an idea that could easily become a little too precious - drawing a four-panel autobiographical comic strip every day - and manages to create something that is both funny and thoughtful.

I still don't like his artwork, though.
Jan 06, 2009 Dave rated it really liked it
I pick this book from my shelf more than any other. Is anyone else afraid that comics might be making us illiterate? Just a phobia. I think that there is much more going on in Kochalka than in Chris Ware. I find myself reading my own life in small segments like his strip, hear comments and notice cute things about others and about the world. He is probably the happiest man in comics.
Jan 15, 2012 Laura rated it really liked it

There is something compelling about a daily comic strip about the artist's everyday life. Most of the strips are relatively mundane on their own, but when strung together they offer a sweet and interesting glimpse into James Kochalka's life. Charming and honest.
Jun 15, 2008 Brian rated it it was amazing
James Kochalka is amazing. You can find yourself in his record of everyday events. You can find humor in his proudly idividual experiences. You can find respect, admiration and love in his relationships. I am thankful to have been able to read this memoir =)
Nov 09, 2010 Eric rated it it was amazing
I've been a fan of Kochalka's webcomic for years, and I was pleasantly surprised to find this at the comic book store awhile ago. Of course, I had to get it. It's a pleasant and grounding read that reminds you of what really matters in life.
Aug 22, 2007 Jim rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: comics snobs
James Kolchalka is best read in large doses. This collection of years of his daily diary strips is fairly high on "Jim's Toilet Reading" Top Ten list. There are occasional clunkers, but most of these are funny and sweet.
Apr 01, 2011 Emily rated it it was amazing
I love James Kochalka's daily strip. He's so honest, painting his life and relationships with all the ups, downs, and in-betweens that create the dimensions of reality. Reading this collection made me feel better about making comics, as well as about living life.
Jan 08, 2011 Jessica rated it liked it
3.5 stars
This is JKs 5 year "diary" of doing a comic (4 panels) every day to capture the fleeting moments of something special that happens every day. It is a good idea, and most of the strips are good, but it gets a little long and the common thread may be somewhat weak.
Dec 31, 2011 Terrence rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphic-novels
I found it interesting to have a peek into the life of James Kochalka. I can't help but wonder what his wife and friends think of his strips. Some of the material was too personal and made me feel uncomfortable while reading it.
Jun 28, 2007 Missy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bestreadsever
I read the new ones everyday on his website too. So honest and sweet. Sometimes raw. Always appreciating the little things. Cute art too.
Terri Mccabe
Jul 17, 2007 Terri Mccabe rated it it was amazing
Hilarious, and very fun to read.
Nov 23, 2007 Jessi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: comics-and-art
ok, i got out my james kochalka collection over the holidays and dug in. delicious slices of introspective art nerdiness life.
Liz Gillingham
Nov 16, 2009 Liz Gillingham rated it it was amazing
Loving every moment. Reminds me of my priorities- to be creative, savor the little things in life. James Kochalka is my new hero.
Oct 25, 2007 Jessica rated it really liked it
This was so much fun to read. The days are alternately boring, sad, funny or just silly but overall pretty hilarious. I liked Spandy the best.
Feb 11, 2008 Brooke rated it it was amazing
I really love this book--it is made of daily comic sketches that on their own are pretty mundane but all together are really captivating and awesome.
Jul 24, 2012 Swampy rated it it was amazing

I need more and I need it right now. Utterly addictive!
Matthew Lindtveit
Oct 30, 2008 Matthew Lindtveit rated it really liked it
The essential diary comic. It's simplicity makes it unexpectedly profound, and always entertaining.
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James Kochalka is an American comic book artist and writer, and rock musician. His comics are noted for their blending of the real and the surreal. Largely autobiographical, Kochalka's cartoon expression of the world around him includes such real-life characters as his wife, children, cat, friends and colleagues, but always filtered through his own observations and flights of whimsy. In March 2011 ...more
More about James Kochalka...

Other Books in the Series

American Elf (1 - 10 of 18 books)
  • American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries, Vol. 2
  • American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries, Vol. 3
  • American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries, Vol. 4
  • American Elf 1999
  • American Elf 2000
  • American Elf 2001
  • American Elf 2002
  • American Elf 2003
  • American Elf 2004
  • American Elf 2005

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