Inside 'Present' by Leslie Stein
Stein's ability to take everyday experiences that we all go through but fail to recollect and describe is a unique talent. Present's twenty-two stories include hopefulness, sadness, loneliness, regret and triumph.
Anybody who has ever worked a customer service job knows the special kind of joy you get from that regular person that you see every few days who doesn't contribute much to your life but you joyously appreciate that they cause you no inconvenience or discomfort. Sure, you should treat each customer the same and be thankful for having the job in the first place, but that guy, you know? The one who knows what he wants, isn't needy, doesn't ask questions and occupies the same space and situation every time you interact. These are the kind of people and experiences that occupy the pages of Present, through the ever-watchful mind of Stein herself.
Each story involves Leslie herself making her way through life. Dealing with family issues, work problems, the space she occupies in the independent comics industry and the what-if's of potential romantic entanglements. Stein's diary style comics are open and honest - alcohol is a source of joy but acknowledged as something that's ruined things in the past. Past relationships were hard, but taken as ways of learning of how to be happier in the future. 'The Littlest Memory', a story about a grandparent suffering from dementia, is only five pages long but covers the full emotional spectrum of sadness, humor and hopefulness.
Those familiar with Stein's Eye of the Majestic Creature series might be thrown off by the minimal art style, which is more akin to her recent Vice contributions. Using minimal as a descriptor is not to knock the beauty in the simple illustrations that fill the book. Settings and characters are beautifully realized. The design choice to not include conventional panelling gives the stories a unique flow, the only disadvantage being it makes it easy to read through them quite fast to see what happens next.
The honesty in Stein's work is worth the price of entry alone. The hardcover book is beautiful, die cut with three Stein's shining through. A fantastic addition to a growing body of impressive work, Present is a tome of relatable stories that make you feel more alive, more accepting of the things that aren't right and more hopeful for the future.