I purchased Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less as a DRM-free, five-dollar PDF after a friend posted one of its panels on Twitter. I fell instantly in love with Diana Nock’s artwork, with rubbery, noodly characters influenced as much by pre-war American animation as by the cartoons of our post-Spongebob present.

The sample of C. Spike Trotman’s writing made the subject matter clear, too: a comics-format guide to independent living on a budget, framed as a Socratic dialog between the frugal, bandana-clad Penny and her pound-foolish pal Mil. Over the couse of a day, Penny shows her ever-skeptical friend how to find cheaper digs, live without a car, value thrift-store clothes and home-cooked meals over pricier alternatives, and start digging herself out of a personal-finances hole.

A page from "Poorcraft"

Overall, I quite enjoyed all hundred-fifty-odd pages of this comic book — even though I skimmed over several of those pages, especially during its occasional sideslips into spot-illustrated lists of chicken recipes or hand-drawn comparative charts of U.S. health care options. It met my expectations of being the book I wish I’d read as a 23-year-old living in my very first by-myself apartment after college, rather than Bill and Ruth Kaysing’s Eat Well for 99¢ a Meal. Poorcraft covers a lot more ground, and in a much more digestible way. While I do not reside in its target audience of those new to independent living — whether by youth or by misfortune — I still gleaned some personally and immediately relevant advice from it. I need to buy some plane tickets this week, as well as refresh my wardrobe for the summer, and now I have some updated ideas about accomplishing both for less dosh.

I found myself sympathizing more than intended with doubtful Mil about the chapter on food, though, and this might come directly from my negative personal experience with the Kaysings’ classic a long time ago. I believe strongly in success through modest changes. In Poorcraft, Penny wants to show Mil how not to eat out all the time — an excellent goal! However, her solution to this matches the Kaysings’: buy staples like rice and potatoes in bulk, get a cast-iron skillet and keep it seasoned, find a good kitchen knife and keep it sharp. If you can, tend a garden, either in a plot outside or in a carefully constructed containers lined with sand and crushed styrofoam. Then learn how to build all your meals from these basic foods and tools.

Reading Eat Well as a life-newbie, I loved the novelty of this idea, and I distinctly remember gathering a lot of stuff as directed, excited to begin. And after two or three failures to make a basic potato pancake, the first recipe in the book, I gave up. Thus I basically lived like savings-free Mil for the next 15 years, until finally rescued from my wasteful bachelorhood. The blame lay with me, of course, and not the book. But I wonder how differently it might have gone had I instead read a book advising me how to become a smarter shopper of prepared foods and other easier-to-prepare home meals, rather than go directly from zero experience to full, varsity-level self-sustenance?

To its credit, Poorcraft does spare some attention to smarter can-and-carton shopping, pairing it with the entirely valid admonition that diligently collecting and applying coupons can stretch one’s grocery-dollar to surprising lengths. But I did find the balance between the strategies off: I can’t help but feel that an empty-fridger who gets dinner delivered every night needs basic lessons in driving a shopping cart more than intimidating advice on using a whetstone.

This complaint of mine just comes down to a differing opinion on informational organization, though. (Perhaps an Advanced Poorcraft appendix?) I really did dig this book! One of its back-cover blurbs compares its role to that of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go, and I do in fact hope it finds its way into the hands of many independent life-starters for many years to come.


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