It is the end of summer and the friends plan a camping trip up in Wisconsin. John is in a good mood, got another haircut, and while we do not see his girlfriend Lita, I’m happy to see that perhaps his attitude is not completely dependent upon the relationship.
He does mention in the last panel of the first page that he remembers "seeing the lake through the trees" as they drive by. I would take this as reinforcement of this change for him. They drive through a storm and stop in a town to get something to eat. Hassled by "rednecks" because one of them orders a vegieburger, they leave but one of them does take pictures of the townie hollering at them through the restaurant window. Strangely, while Porcellino chooses to give us a look at prejudice and stereotyping, it is from both sides: The townfolk make fun of John J. as being a "fuggin freak fairy" while John takes photos of the "rednecks" through the window as they leave.
They avoid a fight and move on, stop and skateboard on the bridge at Two Rivers. Some nice sounds integrated into the panels here, the sounds of the boards (onomatopoeia) contrasting with the silence as John looks over the bridge at the river.
Almost out of gas, the pull into Appleton to fill up. They pull out their skateboards but are warned by a girl who is a passenger in a car driven by an older man that the townfolk here hate skateboarders. This part had this tune going through my head for days afterward. The boys follow the man and girl to a campground where the two take off before the boys find a campsite. Unable to do so, they camp right outside of it and John goes to sleep wondering if "that girl has sex…zzz…with the moustache guy…" In the morning they sneak into the campground facilities to brush their teeth, then take a walk in the woods.
In the finale of the story, the end of John’s adventurous, life changing summer, he notices "the air and the trees, and the sunlight breaking through the darkness." This is a metaphor for his coming out of his depression and feeling of not belonging. The world now appears real to him, and likely he feels a part of it.
For me, the story could have ended right there, the point being made rather clearly. Porcellino chooses to go on three more panels where the boys take off their shoes and wade in the stream in the woods, and John states "I was very happy." This was a bit overkill and repetitious from the prior section, though it did negate some of the wariness I had at that point about the reason for his turnaround.
All in all, studied a bit more carefully than its surface story of teenage anxiety that’s been told a million times and experiences even more, Perfect Example could be said to be a precise and appropriate title.
There is an excellent example here also of the use of graphics and text to go further into story than the idea of funny or power hero type comics that the medium is normally associated with to the unaware (that’s me, too). In particular, this is a memoir graphic novel that is considered nonfiction as it is based on the author’s recall of that summer between high school and college or so I assume, though he could be a junior since there was no mention of graduation and college applications would have been a bit late in May of their senior year.
At any rate, it is a transitioning period for all of them as they leave one world and get ready to enter another, feeling the discomfort of having outgrown one and looking forward with some trepidation to the unknown.
While the drawings are a bit hokey, the simplicity serves its purpose to be be more abstract and thus easily accessible to the experience of a diversity of readers. Certain elements of both story and comic strip effects have been used to accentuate the telling and showing of the narrative.
Not my fav, but a good example of graphic story.