When "Local" was first announced, I remember thinking that the basic concept sounded really interesting; twelve stories set in twelve different cities, each evoking the feel of the place in which they're set, and with one central character as the common thread between them all. And if that's what the sum total of "Local" turned out to be, I think I'd have liked it a lot.
What we actually got with "Local," though, was something much stronger and engrossing. To me, "Local" isn't the story of twelve places. It really becomes the story of Megan McKeenan and how over time she grows and matures as a person, each event in her life helping shape and redefine her. Only, in the case of "Local," it doesn't come across cheesy or trite like my description probably just did.
Going back and re-reading "Local" in a collected edition is a great experience; as much as I enjoyed buying and reading each individual issue, seeing all the stories back-to-back really helps bring home just how much goes on with Megan's life. It would have been easy, for instance, to have Megan's bad boyfriend troubles in the first issue result in her being much wiser and less trusting in the second issue. That's not how real life works, though, and Brian Wood certainly doesn't take the easy (or predictable) route. Instead we've got a book where Megan screws up more than once, and sometimes it's even the same mistake. When "Local" opens she's still very young and naive, thinking she knows everything even as the reality is anything but. An early solution of Megan's is to walk away from a problem, and while that seems like the best thing to do, it ends up echoing throughout her life as she runs away from each bad situation that she creates. That running certainly helps with the shifting of location from one story to the next, but it's to Wood's credit that even once Megan begins to settle down it doesn't hamper him in any way, as the things she ran from earlier on are still out there, waiting. In one of the included essays in the back of the book, Wood mentions that a lot of readers either love or hate Megan. I think in "Local" he's created a character that you can really grow to like; she's not the kind of person early on that I'd want to hang out with, but by the end of the book she's certainly someone I'd want to know and call a friend.
Wood plays with form in "Local" with good effect in several of the chapters, breaking in places from a conventional story progression. Because of the nature of the book also being twelve short stories, it gives him room to play around a bit and try different things; the third issue (set in Richmond, Virginia) barely uses Megan at all, letting Wood tell a story about music and bands that fits perfectly into the rest of the book. Two chapters focus on relatives of Megan's (her cousin Nicky and her brother Matthew), and those stories end up talking as much about Megan as they do about him. And, of course, it's hard to ignore the structure of the first story in "Local" as we see numerous possibilities of how a bad situation could play out. It's an extra layer of variety to a book that is forever changing its setting; it makes sense that the style of some of the stories would end up a little different.
After years of being used to seeing Ryan Kelly contribute inks and finishes to Peter Gross's pencils for comics like "The Books of Magic" and "Lucifer," it was a real eye-opener to see Kelly create all the art for "Local." His heavy inks provide a real weight to the page, making both the characters and the settings seeming very solid and real. One of the things that impressed me early on was how much detail he put into the backgrounds of "Local." Sure, it's a book that's supposed to be set in twelve different places and if he hadn't hit those looks then all of "Local" could have fallen apart. But Kelly does more than draw landmarks and iconic sights from these places; if anything, he and Wood avoid going for that cliche. We get the same amount of care and thought put into both rowhouses in Richmond and condiments on the shelf of a Chicago restaurant. There's no wasted white space here, no shortcuts taken.
Kelly also switches his style up for the flashbacks in issues 9 and 10, and one of the great things about the collected edition is seeing those pieces of art back-to-back and seeing a very deliberate difference between them. With Megan's flashbacks, the panels are heavily shaded, almost as if there's a slight shadow across the entire scene. It's as if Megan's memories are sepia-toned in her mind, this lush, simpler time that she can remember and better comprehend and appreciate as an adult. By way of comparison, Matthew's flashbacks are crisp and sparse; they're deliberately missing a lot of the detail that exists in Kelly's art as he strips everything down to show how Matthew views those earlier times in his life. It's a subtle difference, and it makes me appreciate Kelly's art all the more.
Of course, the most obvious part of Kelly's artistic contribution to "Local" is his slowly aging Megan over the course of twelve years. Comparing her visual appearance between the first and the last issue of the book, they're absolutely the same person, but there is definitely a change to her over time. Not only does her face simply look older and her hair is slightly different, but her body language has changed. The know-it-all, defiant swagger and facial expressions that we got in those early issues are gone, replaced with a relaxed and confident Megan. The Megan that holds the key up at the start of issue 12 both is and is not the same Megan that's slumped in the car in issue 1.
"Local" is the kind of book that you could base an entire career on; it's some of the strongest work I've seen from Wood and Kelly, and it doesn't surprise me that it's also the most attractive collected edition I've seen from Oni Press. From the metallic fifth ink on the lower half of the front cover, to the soft cloth binding on the spine, it's a truly handsome book that you'll want to have on your bookshelf. I was also delighted to see that the back of the book collected not only Wood and Kelly's essays from the original issues, but color reproductions of the covers and even the guest-artist pin-ups, all of which could have been easily left out. "Local" is a really remarkable book, both in terms of what Wood and Kelly initially planned on doing, and in the final execution. This is, easily, one of the books of the year. Prepare to take a trip around the United States and Canada with Megan McKeenan. Trust me, you won't regret it.