TALE OF TWO ROMANCES
SUBWAY SERIES is a new graphic novel by Leela Corman available from Alternative Comics. Hyped as a teenaged version of "Sex and the City," the book centers on an outcast teenager in New York City who's adrift between her guitar instructor and absentee boyfriend who's interested in only one thing. The book is, at times, painfully honest about all the weird shades of gray there are in teenaged social settings, but ultimately falls flat in failing to produce a clear viewpoint or make a statement with its story. The book ends abruptly, with nothing having been decided, challenged, or changed. The characters all seem like losers by the time the thing is over, with the possible exception of the guitar instructor. And even he's too busy playing both sides of the friend/boyfriend line to take a step too far in any given direction.
Yes, it's a lot like real life. People don't all act according to one central mission. They aren't demonstrative and combative in an effort to get that one thing done, like the way they always are in narrative fiction. There's a reason for that, though. Stories featuring characters that actually do something are more interesting than those featuring characters who are wishy washy.
Sadly, SUBWAY SERIES falls into the latter category.
The other thing that lost me about the book is the lack of anything identifiable for me in it. I grew up in middle class suburbia. And while I know I had people around me who ran around at all hours of the night and attended parties with alcohol and sex, I didn't do that. I was the good kid. I'm fine with that, but it does certainly limit my sympathies to the characters in this book.
It's a 144 page black and white book with a $10 cover price. If you are interested in it, you can find more information at Alternative Press' web site.
For that matter, Tom Beland's TRUE STORY: SWEAR TO GOD isn't something that I can readily identify with, either, but I can enjoy it for different reasons. The cartooning is sharp. The humor is laugh out loud funny. And there's a certain amount of hope and beauty in the package. Tom Beland's relationship with Lily is the one we all dream of having someday, where the rest of the world falls away. It's an extreme that very few people will ever realize, but it's a wonderful thing to read about.
Yeah, call me sappy and sentimental, but I like happiness.
On the flip side of SUBWAY SERIES is a book that debuted in San Diego this year. It's a 208 page black and white original graphic novel called STYLISH VITTLES: I MET A GIRL. This is cartoonist Tyler Page's autobiographical tale of his romance at a mid-west college. His attitude, viewpoint, and experiences fall much more in line with my own than the characters in Leela Corman's book.
The story begins as Tyler starts his senior year in college as an art major. A chance second encounter with the girl-next-door type on campus leads to a strong friendship and, eventually, romantic relationship. Page takes the reader through every step of the often-torturous process of two people getting to know each other when each is hiding the affection they hold for the other. He's honest about his own faults, his own trepidations, and all the little stupid (in retrospect) things that go into forming a relationship like you see in the book.
STYLISH VITTLES is more a world like my own than SUBWAY SERIES. It's a world in which the lead character isn't just bed-hopping. It's a world where friendship is a part of dating, and getting to know people is more important than just finding out their astrological sign at a rave while both parties are stoned. It's the kind of story that gives me hope that it can happen to anyone.
The book is loosely broken down into chapters, with each showing us another step in the relationship as Tyler and Nanette grow closer. It's all the small quiet moments that bring a smile to your face as you realize these two people are destined for each other. They are two likable characters who you can't help but root for as they circle each other.
Page's storytelling is easy to follow. While he doesn't stick to a grid with his panels, the overlaps are slight and the order they're to be read in is obvious. A non-regular comics reader would have no problem with the book.
Dialogue in the book sounds natural, and the talking heads scenes don't drag things down. They're the highlight of the book. Page is not afraid to let the scenes play themselves out, or to add a little bit of comedy or drama with a shift in artistic style for a panel or two. He even uses a few examples of the kind of narrative device you might remember from TITUS, where the lead character steps into a new backdrop for a moment to make a point. When Tyler talks about being in the entertainment capitol of the world, for example, he's suddenly awash in a spotlight on an otherwise dark stage, unknown to his friend standing next to him.
Page begins the book with one of the most insane zoom-ins I've ever read in the comics medium. Picture the opening of the movie CONTACT. Now picture it in reverse. Times two. In bold two-page splashes, Page pushes in from the furthest edge of the universe, through the galaxies to the Solar System to the moon and earth, to his cubicle, to his drawing table, and to his Escher-esque hand drawing his hand. The first words appear on page 47. "This is where the story ends," he says, and I was gripped. Anyone who has the audacity to try to pull off that opening has my attention. Like everything else in the book, it's not for nothing. The end of the book reflects back on this opening. It's not done in a direct and painfully obvious way in an attempt to gain closure, but it's there thematically.
The rest of the book is more densely packed than the opening. It's not all double page spreads. Page has an approachable art style that mixes art school training with cartoonist's license. He's capable of finely cross-hatched pen and ink art when he wants to, but he chooses to illustrate this story in a more free style, relying on a mostly thin line. He has a bit of a problem in drawing characters whose heads are too large, but after awhile you chalk it up to style and it all blends together. While it's not always the most natural looking art on the planet, it's very expressive and detailed. He uses speedlines as he channels superhero comics to illustrate the rush to make the movies or run away from embarrassment. He shifts to photorealism for a full page splash in introducing the story. A morning sunrise is accentuated with almost SIN CITY-esque attention to stark shadows. It's all effective and adds strength to the story.
I only have two quibbles with the book as a whole. The first is that Page shifts narrative focus a few times from Tyler to Nanette and back. It's done well enough that it's obvious who's speaking when, but it's not necessarily good storytelling form. It might have also helped to differentiate the lettering between the two characters in those scenes where they were both narrating.
The major quibble I have with the book is an early scene in which Tyler is giving advice to a fellow art student who's suddenly found herself in love with a friend. It's right along the lines of "Go ahead and ask. What's the worst that can happen? He'll say no?" It never ceases to amaze me how some people think it's just that easy. It never is…
In any case, the book is a wonderful look at an interesting but well grounded relationship. It has its ups and its downs. The ending is a little surprising, but it does come at a natural point. It makes me very curious for the rest of the story, but it doesn't feel like the book ran out of pages. It's a very carefully crafted ending to the story with some religious elements that ties back to the opening scene. This is not the typical religious argument, either. This isn't evolution versus creationism. It's something I've never seen in comics before, and was happy wasn't used to put down any one side. You'll have to read the book to see what I mean. I hope you'd be as charmed by Tyler Page's work as I was.
More information on the book can be had at Tyler Page's web site, including two sample chapters. The solicitation for the book is in the most recent PREVIEWS under "Dementian Comics." It might just be the best $15 you'll spend this year. If you beg your local retailer, he or she might still be able to pre-order you a copy at this late date.
I also have a spare copy of the book that I'm giving away. If you'd like to win a free copy of STYLISH VITTLES: I MET A GIRL, drop me an e-mail with "Stylish Vittles" in the subject line and your name and address in the body of the message. I'll pick one winner at random. (Everyone is welcome to enter, from any country in the world.)
Deadline is midnight (East Coast, USA) next Friday. I'll announce a winner the week after. Good luck.
VARIOUS AND SUNDRY
My new blogger has moved to its permanent new home. A little more than two years ago, I bought the domain name VariousAndSundry.com. At the time, I had planned on using it as an excuse to teach myself a little MySQL/Perl/PHP programming and to devise a Slashdot-like blogging web site. I didn't get too far with it before other things got in the way and I put it aside.
At CBR Boss Man Jonah's urging, though, I moved my recently set-up LiveJournal blogger to VariousAndSundry.com, thus fulfilling its original mandate. Of course, in the past couple of years, blogs have become very popular and I had my choice of off-the-shelf applications that I could download for free off the web, and I chose one called "b2."
If you want to talk about all the stuff that’s off-topic in Pipeline, that's the place to go. I'll be yapping there about books, movies, television, DVD, video games, and more. Hope to see some of you there.
Next week: A special review of Marvel's upcoming EDEN'S TRAIL. It's a breathtakingly beautiful book, but does the story hold up? Check back on Tuesday to find out.
More than 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.