If you ever dreamed of having a hip family with cool siblings with attitude who still cared deeply for each other, you’ll love Hopeless Savages.
Two former punks who grew up (but never grew out of the lifestyle) have a family of kids with names like Skank Zero, Arsenal Fierce, and Twitch Strummer. When the parents are kidnapped, the kids have to figure out how to save them. That means they have to reconnect with outcast brother Rat, who doesn’t fit in because he gave up music to work for a coffee chain corporation.
The story is written by Jen Van Meter, with art by various creators. The flashback art is done by Chynna Clugston (Blue Monday) in her usual manga-influenced style. These sections provide important background for the present-day events. The first interlude crystalizes the moment when Rat decided to go a different way from his family; in the second, Rat helps Arsenal through her identity crisis, which softens and provides more of a family context for the rest of the issue. Later flashbacks cover the parents’ earlier careers and how they met, while the last establishes the family’s fighting ethic, best expressed as “might for right” but without being bullies.
The majority of the book, by Christine Norrie (Cheat), is similar in attitude but a bit more open and straightforward. Norrie isn’t afraid of black, which gives her pages strong anchor points. The characters even resemble each other, as suits family members. The two styles make for a well-integrated book where the flashback sections are still distinct to readers.
Corporate satire is nothing new, but Van Meter’s addition of dot-com pretension to a Vreeland-like fashion plate is fresh and funny. She also has a great ear for made-up slang that sounds plausible and evokes the proper mood. I would say this would make a great movie because the art is so active and full of motion, only it’s even better as a comic.
Allusions in this series are made cleverly, with a point beyond simple copying. The opening page of chapter #2, for example, features Zero in a trench and fedora holding caption cards reminding readers of events so far. The scenes manage to evoke both Sam Spade and Bob Dylan, and the single shot of the card dropping off the bridge beautifully illustrates how helpless and responsible Zero feels about not preventing this situation in the first place. It’s not many artists that can capture that kind of body language in a half-figure drawn less than half-an-inch high.
The usual conflicts — such as parent/child or unusual child/peer group — appear in an amusing new context due to the punk attitudes. Many of us know hippies who named their kids Moonbeam or Summer, so why not have the same thing happen a generation later? I managed to miss out on punk almost completely at the time, so I had misconceptions about what it meant. Here, they concentrate on the do-it-yourself, creative, be true to yourself aspects, messages I can really get behind.
Some intriguing ideas are raised in the stories. For example, if punk is doing it yourself, why is it so necessary that the family force their oldest brother back into who he used to be? Do they really know better than he what he needs? It’s possible — that’s part of what family is about, knowing you better than you might know yourself and loving you through it all.
An additional section contains two more stories with the characters. “Sticks and Stones” deals with the kids getting in trouble at school for fighting and bad language, and “Romance #1” is a cute little love story involving another sibling pair. Also included are five strips, previously available online, about what school open house might be like for this family. In the first, more expensive edition, the extras are color; in the second edition, they’re black and white, and the book is slightly smaller in format.