Feast of the Seven Fishes

This landscape-format hardcover collects an online comic strip about an Italian family preparing their traditional seafood meal for Christmas Eve in 1983.

Author Robert Tinnell in his introduction talks about how important family heritage is to him, and how he aims here to capture the tradition and comedy and romance of the holidays. Unfortunately, his aim exceeds his grasp. In the rest of the book, he presents some of his memories, but I felt removed from them, like listening to an acquaintance’s slightly over-long stories instead of feeling the emotions behind them. Maybe I expected a bit too much — this isn’t a graphic novel, with the more complex presentation that format allows, but a collection of strips designed to be presented in much shorter chunks.

Feast of the Seven Fishes cover
Feast of the Seven Fishes
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We open on the setting, one of a number of mill towns with an Italian enclave maintaining the traditions of their home country. A town boy has met, via a friend, an Ivy League college girl back for the holiday. He invites her home to experience the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a loud party unlike her typical family gatherings, and her unfamiliarity conveniently allows for lots of explanation indirectly to the reader.

The first run of art, by Ed Piskor, isn’t anything to write home about. It gets the job done, but it’s clunky, and sometimes the word balloons aren’t as well-placed as they could be for easy reading. One of the female characters, who’s supposed to be sexy, is drawn cross-eyed and freakishly assembled.

After 60 strips, experienced artist Alex Saviuk takes over, and the strips instantly improve as Christmas Eve begins. Before him, we got stereotypical ex-girlfriend drama; after him, we get the family interaction that got me interested in the book in the first place. The Ivy Leaguer is suddenly an attractive co-ed, and the older family members demonstrate the attitude the story invests them with. There’s the feast, and midnight mass, and culture clash, and romantic drama.

It’s nothing special — you’ve seen this story before in a variety of media. What makes this presentation different is the material that comes after. First there’s a text piece about the real small town and family that inspired this story, and then comes my favorite part: a short cookbook in which the author’s wife explains how to prepare the traditional dishes that have been mentioned.

With the various hooks to the project — Italian heritage, the recipes, the family reunion, the holidays — and the upscale packaging, this book would make a good gift for those not necessarily familiar with comics. Perhaps the family patriarch would find the holiday gathering amusing, or a cook interested in traditional cuisines might enjoy the recipes.

You can read a preview at the book’s website.


One Response to “Feast of the Seven Fishes”

  1. ComicMix Strips Go to Print in Exclusive Con Versions » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Street, by Robert Tinnell (Feast of the Seven Fishes) and “Baltimore’s own” Mark Wheatley (Mars, Frankenstein Mobster, Breathtaker). [...]

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