On Friday Sept.6, I made my way to Atomic Books, a small book and comic shop located in Hampden. As a store, Atomic provides a wide selection of comics/graphic novels, books, and more. Yet, what really drew me to Atomic Books is that it is a very active site for literary events and promotions. Friday’s event was a dual book release featuring the works, “So Say the Waiters Book 2” by Justin Sirois and John Dermot Woods’ “Activities”.
Arriving early, I met writer Justin Sirois, who was celebrating the release of his second book in the “So Say the Waiters” series. At the event I picked up “So Say the Waiters Book One”. By the third page I was laughing and intrigued by Sirois’ writing. This first novel introduces the main characters Henry and Dani. Together they become embroiled in kidnApp, a social network and app that coordinates the kidnapping of assigned Waiters who want an escape from the encroaching boredom of everyday life. The first novel opens with Henry struggling to get past the breakup with his fiancé while also facing a financial rut. Tides turn when he is offered a high position in the booming company behind kidnApp. The caveat is that he must first become a proficient Taker (kidnapper) in order to get the job. He’s terrible at it- that is until Henry partners with Dani, a struggling bartender who is already active in kidnApping. Told in episodes, the first novel follows these characters as they use kidnApp to find a way out of economic troubles. Book 2 continues with Henry and Dani building their prestige as takers while delving further into the history of kidnApping. The second novel also introduces a villain character, Glen Haymaker, one of kidnApp’s CEOs and founders.
The text brings to life a contemporary style that is quick and witty, very much told through the minds of the characters themselves. A heavily character driven plot, Sirois said that one of his key goals was to develop believable people. Primarily written in 3rd person omniscient, direct thoughts of characters inserted into the narrative really brings the character’s perspective into the plotline: “Soaping himself, he flexed his stomach muscles and swore that two humps of a six pack appeared just below his chest. Once Meghan sees me like this, she’ll want me back, he thought. She’ll see the old me.” (Sirois, “So Say the Waiters Book 1”) Here, Henry takes a moment to notice his weight-loss with an almost a sarcastic nod. Yet adding to the humor is a deeper moment where Henry wonders if that will be enough to resolve his emptiness; maybe a simple change can alter a fallen romance. Such writing molds Henry into a multi-layered person that readers can relate to. Set in Baltimore, Sirois immerses the reader into the city itself; focusing on Baltimore’s nightlife and artistic culture.
Joining Sirois was comic book writer/artist, John Dermot Woods. Woods was actually the first person to teach a course on comics at Johns Hopkins University. Now teaching literature in New York, he returned to Baltimore to celebrate the release of his comic collection, “Activities”. “Activities” is composed of cartoon-like short comics depicting moments and thoughts surrounding the way individuals live. Some of the comics can be hard to grasp. An offbeat sense of humor percolates within the collection too, and it is usually bound to the symbolism imbedded within the works. One of the comics, Whistleblower, focuses on a boy with a skeleton arm… that nobody seems to notice at all; not even his own father. This is mirrored by the general lack of attention he receives as the comic plays out. It seems bizarre, but analyzing what this could mean for the character himself, it becomes clear that Woods is using this skeleton-arm as a metaphor. It brings to attention that some individuals go about life hardly noticed. Sometimes people don’t even receive proper acknowledgement from loved ones. “Activities” presents a very internal kind of comic. While humorous, it also offers a deeper insight on life through the artwork.
The venue was filled with several of the artists’ readers and friends, but there were also many who just came for the experience. Atomic provided an inviting atmosphere with a casual vibe. One unique feature of Atomic Books is the bar located in back which offered a broad selection of beer and wine. The bar also provided a good spot to mingle and speak with the writers themselves before and after the event. The format of the release was particularly engaging compared to most. While each writer shared a bit of their work, it was primarily a session of dialogue and questions. In book releases I’ve attended in the past, the author readings occupied most of the venue’s time. Co-owner Benn Ray told me he wanted to make this event similar to a talk show, “There are a few clips in a talk show, but the clips aren’t the whole show. It’s the discussion.” The event’s style made the writers and their processes become truly graspable to the audience. Atomic has other frequent events featuring local writing and comics. This Friday Sept.13 is Atomic’s SPX-PLOSION, an annual small press expo which will also feature comic readings.