A review of Drop-in by Dave Lapp

Published on August 1, 2009

Dave Lapp

conundrum press

Dave Lapp’s graphic novel Drop-In is a collection of autobiographical tales set in a Toronto drop-in centre. Lapp’s character, Dave, is drawn in a style reminiscent of Joe Sacco’s diminutive, bespectacled self-portrait. Dave works as an art instructor with at-risk youth, and through him we see their violence and their tenderness, and the startlingly thin line that separates these two opposites. Lengthier sections deftly display the harrowing monotony of teenage violence, and the threat of violence. Lapp does not aim for social commentary, instead giving us simple portraits, which he does with a gentle honesty.

Lapp’s presentation is simple and inviting. So much is said in the quieter frames, such as in the weak, apologetic smile of a youth after opening up about a suicidal parent. Lapp slips into poignant comments so quietly it’s easy to miss them. After hunting out and dissecting the homes of bugs in a grassy field, Dave says, “I’m glad we’re leaving without destroying any more homes.” Yet we know that most of the children he is with come from broken homes and struggling families.

Drop-In captures the random, bewildering behaviour of children. The protagonist often stands bemused at the children around him, whether they are dashing through the margins of the frames, hovering around him affectionately, or lashing out at the other children.

Dave is often left in the dark, confused and befuddled. He is an outsider, and Lapp lets his portrait of this position play out. He often refuses resolution, leaving conflicts, questions, and even narratives dangling. But these fragmented stories speak for themselves. The jumble of incomplete snapshots feels apt in the context of a drop-in centre – a place with an unstable attendance of attention-deficit-disordered and attention-deprived children. This gives Drop-In its true-to-life quality. The stories pop in and out of Lapp’s narrative in much the same way that the children pop in and out of Dave’s life. He is doing his best to connect with them, but he knows his place and is frustrated at the futility of it all.

But patience is one of Dave’s virtues. A particularly confused note from one of the children states: “You or go to me.” He remains puzzled until the child deciphers her writing: “You are good to me,” she says.

Moments of joy tangle with moments of fear, and aggression with ambivalence. Dave points to a racist slur left long ago on a doorway at the drop-in centre and asks why nobody erases it. “Because nobody cares” is the reply. In these pages, Lapp seems to care, and as a result, so do we. mRb

Correy Baldwin is publisher of Buffalo Runs Press.



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