Friday, September 23, 2005

Comics Should Be Good Roundtable: Local #1 by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly.

Hello and welcome to the first Comics Should Be Good roundtable! Recently we received preview copies of Oni Press’s upcoming Local #1, a twelve-issue series written by Brian Wood and drawn by Ryan Kelly. Rather than post a handful of separate reviews, a couple of us at CSBG will share our opinions on the book, pointing out its strengths, weaknesses, and whether or not it’s worth your comic-buyin’ dollar.

Local #1 comes out on November 9, 2005. Each issue will be thirty-two pages, printed in black-and-white, with a cover price of $2.99 US/$4.50 Can. If you want your local comic shop to pre-order it, now's the time.

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Harvey Jerkwater: According to Oni, each issue of the series will tell a self-contained story set in a different town in America. The first issue is in Portland, Oregon and features a character who will appear in all of the stories, Megan McKeenan.

Gentlemen, I ask you flat out: is Local #1 a good read? Is it worth three bucks? What grabbed your attention? Where did the book fall short?

Greg, you spent years in Portland. Did it capture the flavor of the town at all?

A very short version of the plot: A girl and her boyfriend sit in a car outside a pharmacy in Portland. He pressures her to fill a fake prescription for morphine. She considers it. Things move from there.

Though my overall impression of the book was positive, I couldn't shake the strong resemblance to Run Lola Run. The story wasn't identical, but the similarities were enough to make the influence obvious: stories of petty crime retold and "rebooted," a girl and her boyfriend living on the edge of society, the boyfriend a criminal and a screwup. That oddball structure was the core of Run Lola Run as well as Local #1.

Beyond that, the book was well done. I was particularly pleased by Ryan Kelly's art, which not only struck an appropriate balance between realism and cartoonishness, but employed angles and layouts in a way that added strong effect to the story.

Greg Burgas: Okay, I just read the sucker, so I'll respond.

Why didn't I like this as much as I wanted to?

I also didn't mind the ripoff of Run Lola Run. It's slightly jarring, but not enough to drag me out of the story. Fine.

Ah, Portland. I loved that aspect of it. Nob Hill Pharmacy is at 21st and Glisan (unless I'm misremembering, but I don't think I am) and it's quite a long run to Union Station, but I suppose the three panels in which Megan (we never actually learn her first name, of course) runs it could happen. Oni is in Portland, so they would know to check these things out. Corvallis is spelled wrong, and I never met anyone who called I-5 "Route 5," but that's probably because I never spoke to the right people. I love when people actually get details about the city right. Pigtale does this pretty well, even though I'm not buying the book anymore.

Anyway, I don't know why I don't like this more. The stories Megan sees in her head are fine, but both characters seemed a little stereotypical. Maybe I'm tired of guys being total jerks and girls being plucky heroines, which seems to be the trend in these kinds of comics. To compare it further to Run Lola Run, what's-his-name boyfriend does stupid things, but he's not a jerk. Lola is a plucky heroine, but she's not perfect. Megan seems way too together to be with the stupid loser in the first place. Maybe we'll learn more about her as the series progresses and why she was with him, but right now, it doesn't seem right.

So that's my initial thoughts about it. Dog pile on. I may chime in if something someone says sparks something in me. Chiming in is good.

Harvey Jerkwater: Greg, I know what you mean. I too wanted hard to like Local more than I did. The book gets the little things right: picture angles, framing, dialogue. That’s great. But something about the book isn’t quite right.

The best way I can explain my misgiving it is that the book reminded me of cake made from a box of store-bought mix: Add one half pound of popular foreign movie to a cup of photo references from Portland and a half a stick of minor epiphany, then season with a dash of “girl power.” Blend until lumps disappear.

Like cake from a mix, it’s decent, even pretty good in some ways. But you’ve had better, and you can find better.

I suppose what prevented me from embracing the book was its cleanliness. It wraps up too neatly, with a Lifetime Movie of the Week for Teens ending. The heroine realizes her junkie boyfriend is a loser, ignores his semi-abusive ways, and ditches him. It’s supposed to feel human and triumphant. I found it mechanical.

The story wasn’t messy enough to feel true. Local #1 is, in its heart, a simple morality tale: “Be strong, girls! Ditch that loser boyfriend and live your own life!” Her decision was simple and easy. Of course she left him; there was no reason for her not to.

I would have been more absorbed into the story had they muddied the waters a bit. Dirty it up. Roughen the clean edges.

How about having her love the guy, making her betrayal hard? She seemed to barely tolerate him.

Or maybe having her scared of him? In the comic, he’s only fearsome in one of the four versions, and her final reaction shows she was never all that scared. How about making him a genuine threat?

Or maybe she hates him but can’t bear to be alone?

Or maybe she craves approval and can’t bear to let anyone down, so she’s torn about going through with the crime?

Instead the situation in the book was black and white: he’s an asshat, she’s scared of being dragged down, she walks away.

What’s killing me is that I don’t hate the book. It’s pretty good. I want to love it. Its heart is in the right place and it tries. But it doesn’t quite reach me.

Brian, I’ve read you on another site saying you really enjoyed Local. What’s your take on Greg and my lukewarm reactions?

Bill Reed: Yeah, alright, so I've never seen Run Lola Run, but the story still felt tired to me. Like you other guys I really wanted to love this, but came out of it thinking it was just decent. The narrative device of the protagonist (Megan, right? Yes. Megan.) rerunning various outcomes of the same situation in her head was interesting once but started to bore me after I realized the entire issue was going to be like that.

Okay, so this first issue is all set-up for her travels throughout the country, which will lead to the local locales that Local is about, but I thought this issue kinda missed out on the whole "local" bit. I'm sure there's more to Portland than a pharmacy and train station, but I wasn't feeling the city, which is one of the major points of this series, right? Setting is very important in this book and we didn't get enough of it with this debut issue. Future issues will probably use more with the locales, I imagine. At least, I hope so.

I, too, thought Ryan Kelly's art was scrum-diddly-umptious. I've seen many other bloggers compare the style to that of Paul Pope's, and I agree: the art is what would happen is Paul Pope and Jim Rugg (of Street Angel fame) had some mad love child. And I think it fits the tone of the book; it's a little expressionist but still down to earth at the same time.

No one except me ever mentions this kinda thing, but I also enjoyed the lettering (given to us by Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley). Yes, I'm a geek for aesthetic fonts.

Oh, and I can never remember: Is this book supposed to be ongoing, or is it just 12 issues like its spiritual predecessor, Demo?

Brad Curran: It looks like I liked the issue a little more than the rest of the respondents, although less than Ian Brill and some of the other folks who have been quoted at the Local Blog. I found it to be a good self-contained story, but it didn't bowl me over, so I can't provide any hyperbolic praise for it, either.

The similarity to Run Lola Run occurred to me within the first few pages of the story, but I thought it was pretty slight (that said, I barely remember anything about that movie beyond Franka Potente's bitchin' red hair). It wasn't a huge distraction or anything, though.I liked the narrative device of her running through different scenarios in her head before choosing one. I also liked the way Kelly illustrated the end of the "fantasy" scenarios. The images of Megan against a stark white background are the most striking in the comic.

Speaking of the art, it was probably my favorite part of the book. Kelly uses close-ups to great effect, shows a great range of facial expressions, and his layouts kept the story moving nicely. He also made good use of the splash page, which is nothing to sneeze at giving the page restraints he was up against. The Paul Pope influence jumped out at me pretty profoundly, especially the way he draws Megan, but being reminiscent of Paul Pope is no bad thing. It also has to be said that his work is a lot less abstract than what I've read of Pope.

That said, there's something about the story that keeps me from unabashedly loving it. The only thing I can come up with at this point is that, despite the fact that her emotions are well rendered by Kelly, Megan comes across as a bit of a flat character. She has a good deal of attitude and shows vulnerability, but we don't know anything about her other than that she doesn't want to crawling back to her parents. Now, I'm not going to fault Wood for not doing a lot of characterization or anything. He and Kelly do tell us some things about her during the course of the story, which is very impressive considering the lack of exposition and interior monologue. Still, I didn't really connect with her as a character, which did make the resolution a little hollow. I had a similar reaction to the stories in the comic the aforementioned Mr. Brill compared this one to, Optic Nerve. It's a well-done comic, and I liked it well enough, but it doesn't resonate with me emotionally.

Still, it's a nice change of pace from what I've been reading lately, and I'm all for more self-contained single-issue stories. I've become more fond of monthly serialized comics than I used to be, but I still think that there's a lot of value in the "done in one" comic that's not being utilized, both in the superhero genre where it used to be the standard and comics as a whole. If the single-issue format is going to continue to be prevalent, and prices aren't dropping below the $2.99 benchmark any time soon, I think the self-contained, "book length" comic is a use of the format worth pursuing. So I'm all for more series like this and Warren Ellis's Fell, which I enjoyed quite a bit, which has the advantage of being a denser read, Ben Templesmith's insane art, and featuring a liquor enema as a key plot point. There are some things you just can't compete with, and I would say those are three of them.

So, to answer Harvey's questions directly: Local is a good read, I'd say it's worth $3 if you're looking for a single-issue comic with a beginning, middle, and end, Kelly's art grabbed my attention the most, similarities to Pope and all, and it fell short in really making me care about its lead character. I'm not sure if I'll be buying further issues, which is one of the down sides of the self-contained format for an ongoing. I'm less likely to buy every issue of a series if the "What happens next!" factor isn't there. I will at least give subsequent issues a look, which I may not have done otherwise had I not been cut in on this little experiment. If nothing else, I got my first preview comic (secondhand as it was) out of the deal, which was nice.

Brian Cronin: Well, y'all can go to hell, because I really liked it.

That was facetious on my part, as I do not actually want any of you to go to hell.

Except for Brad, naturally.

In any event, I really enjoyed the art on this issue. No one else mentioned this, but I thought Ryan Kelly's art was very similar to Paul Pope's. I am pleased with myself to make such an original connection, and I am ashamed that none of you saw it in the art.

Regarding the whole "local" thing without it actually utilizing much of the local flavor, I will admit that there certainly is something to be said there on that point, but if you look at what Wood has to say about the flavor of hometowns, I think he is really looking more about what small towns and hometowns MEAN to people, about how they influence people's decisions and the like.

In addition, I think that Wood is attempting to convey the fact that a "big" story does not always have to occur in a "big" city, that even normal towns can play host to great human drama, which I think we see before us in Local #1, for what Megan McKeenan does in Local #1 is, to me, quite impressive. The title tells us "ten thousand thoughts per second," (which, by the way, sounds like way too much...I think per hour would be cooler) and that is how Megan has lived her life to this point. Ten thousands thoughts per second…and no action. In this issue, we happen to catch Megan at a moment in her life where she changes that equation, where she goes through all the scenarios and decides to go with one that involves her taking control of the life that, up until now, she only controlled in her dreams. Remember how Hamlet was a "native" in his mind, but to wrapped up in his mind so as to not do anything until it was too late? There, you can see how much effort it takes Megan to escape from that same path.

Hamlet claimed, "Frailty, thy name is woman!" Well, Hamlet, this woman is actually DOING back off.

So yeah, I liked it, and I think this comic (and this 12-issue series) is worth your three bucks.

Harvey Jerkwater: Groovy.

That wraps up the first ever Comics Should Be Good Roundtable.

I’d like to thank Oni Press for sending us review copies of Local #1. We hope that we get the opportunity to do this again sometime.

Comics Should Be Good: Dammit, we care about comics.

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Blogger Shane Bailey said...

Why Run Lola Run? That deja vu convention has been used way before that movie even in other mediums including comics.

9/23/2005 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

Local mimicked the structure of Lola pretty damn closely.

--Boy and girl in petty criminal circumstances, about to embark on something stupid.

--Girl does it, things go sour, she yells "no!" and fades to white.

--Hey, we're back! And she does it again. And it goes sour again! And she yells "no!" again. And it fades to white again.

--Until we get our happy ending.

The likeness was very, very strong. Granted, RLR's multiple versions weren't imaginary--they "happened," and time somehow rewound. But man, the parallels were overwhelming.

9/23/2005 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

Congrats on getting that official review copy from Oni!

9/23/2005 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger Shane Bailey said...

Cool, I've only seen Run Lola Run once years ago and I fell asleep during it, so I just wanted to know why it kept popping up. Thanks.

9/26/2005 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger Ichiban Sensei said...

I'm not familiar with this Run Lola Run thing (?? "run forest run" ??), but I really liked this debut issue.

I agree, there needs to be more information on the character of Meghan, especially if she's gonna be showing up in future issues. I can't wait to read #2 in Minneapolis.

I posted my own review of this issue at

11/23/2005 10:38:00 AM  
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