Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi 'Monkey Food'

By Devin D. O'Leary

SEPTEMBER 20, 1999: 

Monkey Food: The Complete "I Was Seven in '75" Collection by Ellen Forney (Fantagraphics) paper, $12.95

Call it coincidence, call it synchronicity, but -- hey -- I was seven in '75! I suppose that adds an extra level of interconnection with Ellen Forney's wonderful slice-of-life comic strip "I Was Seven in '75." The autobiographical comic first appeared in weekly papers such as The Stranger (Seattle), City Pages (Minneapolis) and The Austin Chronicle. The bad news is Forney stopped doing the strip earlier this year. The good news is the fine folks over at Fantagraphics have compiled the complete multi-year run into a single volume. Unlike most weekly strips that are eventually jammed together between two cardboard covers, "I Was Seven" actually seems to read better in its aggregate form. Forney tends to link her strips together in five- or six-page story arcs. Each arc tells a little anecdote about her childhood in the 1970s and reads like a chapter in some comedic family album. Unlike the vast majority of Gen X navel-gazing, however, Forney's work is refreshingly free of angst and parental loathing.

Forney grew up with a pesky older brother and a couple of hippie parents and seems to have emerged no-worse-for-wear from the shag rugs, orange Formica countertops and folk rock music of the '70s. With a chatty, telephone conversation writing tone and a confident, fat-line style of illustration, Forney looks back with genuine fondness at her Sunshine Family's crazy parties, her summer vacations at the nudist camp, her Unitarian church experiences and the time she killed her family's microwave with a marionette. Forney's observations are funny, nostalgic and rather sweet. Her ability to recall childhood memories is uncanny, and this collection is likely to unearth a wealth of elementary school memories in any adult.

In an era of empty nostalgia, its great to see someone like Ellen Forney who actually remembers the emotions, the ambiance and the rituals that went with each cultural icon -- be it pocket combs, CB radios, Judy Blume novels, "The Six Million Dollar Woman" or silly playground word games.

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