Reviews today!

*Oh lord they’re all around.


This time, we’ve got an analysis of the recent Boom! Studios release of Jenny Finn: Messiah, the conclusion to a 4-issue miniseries that began in 1999. Yes, when Mike Mignola and Troy Nixey embarked on this journey into mutation-happy steampunk Lovecraftia, I was graduating high school. I’m now out of college, and the damn thing is finally done, albeit with Farel Dalrymple tackling a fair portion of the art, and therein lies the problem. So head on over to Comic Book Galaxy as I try to explain what I mean; the rest of my post will be waiting here for you, like a faithful hound.

Local #1 (of 12)

This is coming out tomorrow. It’s from Oni; to me these days, seeing a standard pamphlet-format miniseries arriving with the Oni label is about as strange as writer Brian Wood’s prior 12-issue pamphlet project (Demo) seemed coming out of the resolutely graphic novel-prone AiT/Planet-Lar (actually, a look at Oni's site reveals that it's probably just me - there's still a good number of pamphlets still coming out). But here it is, $2.99, b&w, 24 pages of story, with 7 pages of supplementary material - character designs, pencil art, short essays by Wood and artist Ryan Kelly, and pin-ups by Portland-based artists Brett Weldele and Colleen Coover.

The bit about Weldele and Coover being Portland residents is important; it fits into the book’s premise fairly nicely. For those who haven’t yet been exposed, Local follows the travels and travails of Megan McKeenan, who will visit (or live in) a different place in each self-contained issue; she won’t always be the protagonist of the story, but she’ll be present every time. In addition, the book will steadily be moving forward in time, from this debut issue’s 1994 to the present day in issue #12; in this way, the book will present selections from a maturation, as our constant companion grows from an uncertain teenager to a 30-year old woman.

There will also be plenty of authentic color in regards to whatever town or city or village or whatever a given issue is taking place in; Wood mentions in his essay that he means for the stories to remain universal, whilst containing plenty of landmarks and references for folks familiar with the area to savor - I can’t say I’ve been to this issue’s Portland, and I can’t say the town as depicted here had much bearing on me. This is a tightly-focused story, and there’s actually not a lot of opportunity for Portland’s unique flavor to emanate, though I’m sure the landmarks we occasionally glimpse are friendly and easily recognizable to current or former residents.

What we actually have is a nicely-paced, pleasing character study, one that keeps its eyes on its lead character at all times, close enough that any municipal fauna is bound to be glimpsed only through the corners of our eyes. Actually, if we presume that the series in a wide sense is going to chart Megan’s growth into an adult, the story here can be viewed as something of a preview - its own little saga of someone's personal development from a child to something resembling a mature person. The actual structure of the story will be pretty easy to recognize; for now, I’ll leave it for you to discover, but suffice to say it’s present in some form in various popular films (and the filmic influence perhaps won’t stop there: issue #2’s preview describes a romantic shutterbug character who breaks into apartments, hangs around all day, sorts through various things, takes photographs of himself, and leaves before the inhabitants arrive without taking everything - I’m guessing Wood’s a Kim Ki-duk fan?). And such a set-up, familiar as it is, does a nice job of exploring the protagonist’s inner uncertainty. Let me explain.


As I mentioned above, the structure of the story is a familiar one: Megan is sitting in her car beside her asshole boyfriend (as artist Kelly notes in his essay, Megan’s boyfriend is apparently such a loser that he doesn’t even get a name), who’s trying to coerce her into bringing a freshly-forged prescription slip into a nearby pharmacy so they (he) can score some shit. The exploit does not end well, but at the crucial moment of hazard we double back to Megan, still, in fact, sitting in that car, apparently having imagined the whole thing. And then everything repeats, over and over, except her actions change with each go-through. She slowly gains self-confidence each time, as she moves across a behavioral spectrum, going from utterly powerless (“My parents?” mewls our heroine at the prospect of her family being summoned) to dramatically self-destructive (yowling as a convenient police officer slaps on the cuffs) to cowardly-but-safe (running from her awful awful paramour with rain and sweat staining her brow) to… maybe something else. Or maybe she’s really still sitting in that car, and she’s merely concocted a fantasy of herself that she can be satisfied with.

No, probably not. Keep your eyes on the backgrounds, which fade away at the conclusion of each vignette, leaving Megan isolated in the foreground. The panel structure of these concluding pages are always the same (two big horizontal panels). At the end (the final ending, that is), she fades away along with Portland, having finally become a person that the comic will respect without spitting her out to try again. It’s an exceedingly simple technique, but an effective one, just as the book’s simple story works well for what it sets out to do.


It helps that Kelly’s visuals (with letters by Hope Larson of Salamander Dream and Bryan Lee O’Malley of Scott Pilgrim) are quite good, crisply delineating the various regional sights and offering up some excellent body language and facial expressions. His character designs are heavily reminiscent of Paul Pope’s, curvy noses and all, though his environments don’t possess the fevered off-the-cuff intensity of Pope’s background work; this is a more grounded presentation, firmly set in a certain time and place, and the characters’ surroundings are thus solidified, though their bearing on the story is frankly minimal, as I’ve mentioned. Regardless of where this thing takes place, the story would be fundamentally the same, though the storytelling is clear and the characters in it seem authentic, well-suited and reacting naturally to their small drama.

So it’s a good start. Nicely observed, and looking attractive. You can check out the official blog for art and new information if your attention is captured. Next issue is Minneapolis; we’ll see if any more of the area shines through as time progresses.