Old Man on Campus. James Burns. Burns Comics. 2023. 51 pp.
I’ve been a longtime admirer of the comics work by James Burns. I fondly recall his book, A Life Half-Forgotten. Here is my review. Burns often delivers a fun mix of the curmudgeon and sly humorist that I find very appealing and I believe you will too. In this new graphic memoir, Burns stumbles upon the fact that, through a special program, residents of the state of Georgia over the age of 62 are eligible for free college tuition. Burns, being from Georgia and not someone to pass up on a good deal, jumps at the chance to be Joe Cool in School again–but this time he vows to do it better as an older and wiser student. What could go wrong, right?
Well, the good news here is that nothing goes terribly wrong, although there are a number of painful/awkward moments as Burns powers through a rather protracted “old man returning to school” adjustment period. It seems for quite a long time that all young eyes are on him, passing judgment and ready to ridicule him. And perhaps not everyone was as hospitable as they could have been. But, most likely, the lack of connection is simply universal. Burns is ready to admit that the college scene today, with everyone plugged into their phones, isn’t exactly warm and inviting.
All in all, Burns appears to be a good guy just trying to get along and enjoy college at this point in his life. And it’s not like he’s not open to new trends. In more than one instance, he is fine with embracing the zeitgeist and invoking a sensitivity to his own “white male privilege,” perhaps a little more than necessary but I suppose it’s the thought that counts. I’m just not so sure that he needs to feel apologetic that, as a big strong young man, he wasn’t quite so vulnerable to being taken advantage of as a hitchhiker in his youth. Anyway, Burns appears to be, by the end of this story, on the right path. This is a very engaging look at one man’s initial struggles to fit in. Ultimately, Burns acts as a guide in this story about his new college life. He might be old but he’s young at heart or he’s simply managed to find his way and he can get on with his college experience.