Endless Sky: The Story of a Swiss in America by David Boller
In the past few years, I’ve gained an appreciation for comic book memoirs, and Endless Sky by David Boller is another enjoyable work in this category. It doesn’t have the brilliant poetry of Fun Home or the powerful genius of Brooklyn Dreams, but it’s still worth seeking out, particularly if you are interested either in the story of a comic book writer trying to make it in the industry or in the culture-shock a man from Switzerland goes through upon moving to the United States. And even though I give it four-stars compared to these five-star memoirs, it does have a quality the other two lack: An optimistic, breezy charm that is genuinely admirable since it’s an outlook on life conveyed by the author and main character, David Boller, in the face of real life-or-death adversity.
Though Endless Sky: The Story of a Swiss in America is now available in a single volume, I read it as a four-volume set on Comixology. In the first two volumes, David moves to America in order to attend the famous Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. The first half of David’s story, then, is a campus novel of sorts, focusing on his struggles with roommates, homework, and professors—particularly Joe Kubert himself, with whom David seems to come into constant conflict. Of course, romance is also in the air as David meets a (too) young girl and has his first crush in America. Of most interest to comic book readers might be his contacting Marvel and achieving contracts to draw books there while he is in school.
David begins to establish his career, and Endless Sky reveals a little information about the comic book industry; however, the primary focus in the second half of the book is on his relationship. Volumes three and four focus on his growing relationship with Rachel, a woman who is also an artist, as well as the daughter of a famous painter. She is already working, having given up on the Joe Kubert School after one year of the program (before David came to the United States). We watch the couple deal with routine problems and successes, and these more mundane moments are what I often enjoy when reading memoir. However, this story has some drama the couple do not seek out: Rachel is diabetic, and David is the only friend or family member willing and able to donate a kidney to save her life. I found this part of the story as touching, if not more so, than his proposal of marriage (which was quite romantic).
As I hinted at before, the real strength of this book is its breezy charm and optimistic outlook of the narrator. This charm could be mistaken for literary lightness. We often judge the quality of a literary work by how well it conveys via the main character the deep pain and anguish suffered by the author. What do we make of a work that presents a character whose most admirable trait is an ability to roll with the punches life throws at him, to smile painfully and do what must be done even as he knows his wife might die? I think that’s what I admire most about David Boller as an author and as a character. His art suits this style and mood, too.
David is careful about drawing critical conclusions about the United States, but in the end, he becomes frustrated with the American Dream, particularly as it was played out in the comic book industry in the 1990s, which he sees as representative of the dark side of the American Dream. As the book draws to a close, David, having been quite successful in America, returns to Switzerland because his wife loves it there when they eventually visit. So, he makes the following remark not as a failure, but as a success: He reflects that, for good reasons, “Nobody calls [the American Dream] the American Reality.” Made by most people, this remark would be tinged with cynicism, anger, bitterness, regret, or something else equally negative. But David Boller makes this observation more out of empathy for others than he does for himself, and he says it, as always, from a perspective that is primarily optimistic and positive.
Though I’ve discussed plot here far more than I usually do in my reviews, I don’t believe I have spoiled the fun of the memoir. First of all, the main plot points I mentioned above are revealed on the back of the book and in the description on Comixology. Secondly, this memoir is good to read not because of surprising plot points: It’s good because David Boller tells his story with a graceful directness, both visually and verbally, that is much harder to achieve than it looks. And finally, this book is enjoyable because we get to experience the world from David Boller’s perspective. Ultimately, for these last two reasons, I believe you’ll want to give David Boller’s Endless Sky a chance.
I love that evocative cover!
You mentioned Fun Home. I loved that book and I look forward to seeing the musical some day, since it also looks wonderful (and I was a skeptic).
The idea of “spoiling the fun of a memoir” is an interesting one, since there’s less of a concern with spoiling elements of a fictional narrative. I think you wrote about this book very well, and since I enjoy reading graphic memoirs, I’ll be sure to add this one to my list.