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Overlooked: The Banana Story of Agony

A children’s book we should all read by fourth year

Overlooked: The Banana Story of Agony

I found The Banana Story of Agony in the children’s section of BMV Books. Something about it called to me. It was probably the words “banana” and “agony”: the former being my favourite fruit and the latter being my perpetual state of being. So naturally, I bought it without so much as a glance at the blurb. After initially abandoning it in the corner of my room next to an empty Pepcid bottle, I stumbled upon it again days later, and to my surprise found that I had purchased a masterpiece.

The Banana Story of Agony is a picture book, written and illustrated by Lesley Johnson and published by Conundrum Press, an independent publisher known for its graphic novels. However, it would be folly to assume that The Banana Story of Agony can be classified as anything other than high art.

On a superficial level, this book looks like any other children’s book. Illustrations are accompanied by large, simple text running along the bottom, and the stories all feature children, personified objects, or mythic persons such as Santa Claus. Upon looking closer, however, one discovers that it not only appears to be written for a child, but also written by a child. The illustrations are simple and unpolished, and you can see the white space where the watercolour paper shows through. In fact, the pictures are oddly reminiscent of locker murals painted by middle school art clubs.

Even the text, which Johnson created using both her left and right hand simultaneously, mimics a childlike scrawl. But this isn’t a criticism. This precisely shows how the work blurs the line between child and adult literature, art and kitsch, satire and seriousness.

One of the work’s most obvious blurred dualities is that of innocence and disturbance. The childlike simplicity of the illustrations are juxtaposed with the absurdity and undeniable creepiness of the four stories: “Love”, “There’s No One Home: A Story of Indifference”, “Susan had a Chicken on her Butt”, and the titular “Banana Story of Agony.” The plots of these tales resemble that of an uncomfortably vivid and particularly bizarre dream, one that you wake up remembering and later recount to an annoyed group of strangers while on acid at a house party.

Like Daniel Johnston’s cassette covers, Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue, and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Lesley Johnson’s The Banana Story of Agony is undeniably punk rock in its defiance of conventional norms of art and literature. It is art from the ground up, born from the grassroots, from a place where there are no rules and where we are all a little “bananas.”

Undergrad is the time to do everything you’ve ever wanted to do

Take advantage of all U of T’s resources and try something new

Undergrad is the time to do everything you’ve ever wanted to do

While at U of T, I always felt like I was running out of time.

This first week of school turned into fourth year, and then in between, there were months of pure agony when my mental health went down the drain. But before I knew it, I made it to the other side, and it was all just over.

In hindsight, you too will likely feel as if you have missed so many opportunities and lost so much time. Don’t stress. Instead, get to know all the incredibly talented students here: both your peers and yourself. Embrace all that this school has to offer.

If you’re not sure where to begin, ask someone. It’s unlikely that you will have a chance like undergrad at U of T ever again, where you can walk in with zero experience, gain access to hundreds of resources and opportunities, and then take risks with minimal consequences.

Write that play, and submit it to the U of T Drama Festival. Form a makeshift band, perform at empty open mics, and audition for the Winterfest Battle of the Bands. Write some dramatic poetry, and submit it to a college review. Heck, pitch a podcast to The Varsity and see what happens. Even if you’re rejected, you’ll have written a play, you’ll have experience performing live, and you’ll have a creative portfolio to edit and pull from for next time.

If you’re a commuter, don’t just go home after class. If you live on res, don’t spend your whole life at Robarts Library. Talk to the people in your tutorial and form a study group together. They might just become your good friends. Look for hidden study spots throughout the rest of campus, and then get off campus and explore the actual city.

I spent much of this last summer saying goodbye to people and deliberating whether or not I should move to Vancouver for grad school. “I feel like I wasted so much time not knowing you guys,” one of my best friends said before moving to England.

“But I feel like we’ve known you forever,” I responded.  

Sure, we weren’t able to do everything we had hoped to during undergrad. Realistically, there just wasn’t enough time between all the extracurriculars, academics, and friends. Yet, as it all came to a close, I’m grateful we all did so much while we could, or saying goodbye wouldn’t have been nearly so difficult.