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Lev Yilmaz’ Sunny Side Down: A Collection of Tales of Mere Existence

Written by: Alejandro Rodriguez, Special to CC2K

ImageWe all go through periods in our life where we must question everything we do. What we question may not be the deepest things in our lives; instead they usually entail questions about our relationships with our parents, peers, and romantic interests. They never seem like the most interesting thing in the world, but you can’t help but to take a few minutes from your day to look back on those prior events. Things like, “What was I thinking?” or “Boy, I’m sure glad I got out of that situation.” The question is would you care about the minutia of someone else’s life?

Most proper graphic novels give you a large story to work with. Rarely do bits and pieces take the main stage, and when they do it’s usually to break up the tension during the book. Did the main character get his girlfriend pregnant or not? I guess we’ll have to wonder for the next twenty pages as he flirts with the girl at his local Starbucks and plays Rock Band with a couple of his friends. Sunny Side Down: A Collection of Tales of Mere Existence plays with the concept of one man’s everyday minutia.

A short introduction to the series for anyone who has yet to see it on YouTube: Tales of Mere Existence is an animated series in which the creator, Lev Yilmaz, gives the audience short memoirs of his life. Subjects range from not being able to get over his ex-girlfriend to talking about the time when he first found out about girls through feeling up the plastic bumps of a Princess Leia action figure, a Zira doll and finally seeing the real deal in a game of, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” Topics often vary, but usually end up being depressing or awkward. Still, his stories often intrigue you with the, “Yeah, I’ve been there before…” feeling that so many of us go through on a daily basis. His stories are short and sweet and are usually worth a chuckle.

Sunny Side Down plays out like a mix of memoirs from Lev’s life. The first few chapters are rather typical, they play out as Lev grows up from an infant to a college student, and everything is observed about his past from the first things you understand as an infant to being bullied at school for being different. After the first few chapters Lev goes into detail about his current life and things that catch his attention. These range from things like fighting with his girlfriend in about which movie to rent to Lev wondering what kind of old man he will turn out to be.

The best way to describe this book would be like reading a book with the format of Robot Chicken, but even then that doesn’t do the book justice since enough information is given about Lev at a certain age that you don’t get the feeling of jumping around too much, rather you get the feeling that you are speeding through different acts in his life. It’s done well, but there is a feeling that if you’re not used to his type of storytelling that you may be turned off by his how quick he can go through his stories. This may be the books biggest foil, seeing as a lot of people feel that you can’t rush through things like childhood, but this may also be a good way to introduce friends and random people you meet at parties to Tales of Mere Existence and they’ll look at you and think, “Wow, this guy must be real hip, he likes underground stuff!"

The art in the book is very bare bones and is reminiscent of his work on YouTube. In fact, there is really no significant step-up except in the production values of his drawing (Everything is much bolder and nicer to look at). Although when Lev wants to he can go all out and give life like pictures of Jim Morrison and Keith Richards, but he has his own way of drawing that better suits his type of writing. It’s nothing you would see coming from Jim Lee, but it’s still very appealing to the eyes and cute in a cartoonish way. You can’t help but fall in love with the character models and how simple, yet very well done they are.

With that said, Sunny Side Down is a very short book. It’s something you could breeze by in one or two days. This may be similar of Lev’s shorts on YouTube, but it doesn’t change the fact that you can finish this on a Sunday afternoon. Still, this book is something to be shared with many people. If you leave it lying around it’s bound to be picked up and enjoyed by others who are looking for a quick fix. It’s the type of book that will get more recognition on a coffee table or in a magazine rack in your bathroom (that’s not a put down).

Though Lev’s mood often feels angst ridden and just a tad distraught you can tell he was kind of the odd kid in school, someone who we will recognize from our old pals at the school yard. His attitude doesn’t hurt the book, but it often leaves the reader with a bleak outlook. It’s nothing to kill yourself over, but if you’re one of those people who must have a happy ending to each story you are definitely barking up the wrong tree. Those who enjoy bleak endings may find this much more enjoyable and down to earth especially when it comes to relationships.

Sunny Side Down is a great way to fill an afternoon and is hopefully the first in a long line of graphic novels that Lev Yilmaz will do. He has more than enough stories to write another book and it’s always a treat to be able to understand exactly what someone else is going through. Also if you ask Lev nicely he could play "Still of The Night" by Whitesnake. Awesome, huh?