- Posted by Johanna on November 5, 2006 at 3:36 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: written by Jamie S. Rich; illustrated by Marc Ellerby
- PUBLISHER: Oni Press; $5.95 US
Nobody does romance as well as Jamie S. Rich, and this graphic novel series is no exception.
Tristan is the lead singer of Like a Dog, an up-and-coming band. He’s returning home when he sees the perfect girl at the airport. When she later appears at that night’s show, it must be fate, only she’s engaged to the record company honcho who’s come to see about signing the band. This establishes the conflict: love or money (or the chance at success, anyway).
The dialogue is perfect, realistic and evocative. It tells you everything you need to know, with lots more happening beneath the surface, and it sounds the right age without being trendy or trying too hard. These characters are hip and cool and the kind of people you want to be. Except when they’re not, and you can take comfort in having things a bit more worked out in your own life. Alternately, you might miss the youthful immediacy of the passions that they’re reveling in.
Plots are established quickly without resorting to cliché, and soon all kinds of complications are making life (and thus the book) interesting. My favorite character is Lance, Tristan’s younger brother, who seems to have it most together of anyone AND wears a cool hat. But all of the characters are interesting, even the antagonist, who’s more than the usual two-dimensional bad guy. I also like the way that this isn’t all about Tristan. His dream girl and his bandmates also have key scenes, because they have opinions and choices of their own.
Later, a flashback for Isobel, the “dream girl”, explains her strong sense of commitment. That’s followed by Tristan engaging in some low self-esteem. It’s such a archetypal scene, boy on his bed wondering “does she like me?”, but the combination of art, simple as it is, and text makes the whole thing feel fresh.
If Isobel was a little more self-aware, she might realize that her choice to lie to her boyfriend to see someone else answers her questions before she even asks them, but these characters are still working up to that kind of maturity. And the plot twists and missed encounters and secret messages are all part of the entertainment.
There’s also a lovely outdoors scene with Tristan playing Isobel’s song for her while she sketches him. Two lovers enjoying being creative is charming to see. They’re so cute together!
As the book begins, the band’s feeling the penalty of annoying someone who works at a record label. Tristan is forced to accept that his personal choices may affect his professional life with the band, and vice versa. Just because they can play well together doesn’t mean that they all agree on next steps, either.
Tristan’s been tagged as bad news, and people are frightened enough of his rival to want to avoid dealing with him. As a result, the couple hits their first big snag. We also learn more about Isobel’s dreams and career aims, fleshing out her as more than just Tristan’s crush.
Unfortunately, Isobel deals with conflict by avoidance — she’s refusing to answer calls. The stress is piling up for her, but by refusing to take action, she won’t do anything to fix the problem in the long-term. She’s just hoping it will go away, not realizing that the males in her life are more determined than that.
Meanwhile, Tristan is pouring his hurt into his music. He’s got the potential for real success, if only one of his band members wasn’t selling him out.
All of the personal struggles and conflicts are addressed by the end, but the business storylines are left unresolved. Instead, there’s a new character introduced who’s too clever for his own good, although by the end, he has plenty of reason to be.
I have to wonder if timing contributed to the change in tone of the end chapters. The three smaller issues, #4-6, that make up Side B came out over a period of a year, so the finale appeared two years after the first issue was originally released. That was longer than intended, due in part to an injury to the artist. As a result, the last three chapters of the entire story were written so they can easily stand on their own.
It’s a great conclusion to the romance, with lots of insight — I just wanted to know how the band worked things out as well.
The Art and Links
Ellerby’s art is unique. It’s not conventionally pretty, which has caused some complaints. The perception seems to be that romance comics need a certain kind of attractive art to look at. Ellerby’s style, in contrast, more closely resembles Matt Groening’s. He has a particularly unusual trait of drawing a single line from the chin to the hair in profile or three-quarter view, so that the head is a smooth-edged shape. The eyes are huge, but it’s not particularly manga-esque; instead, it’s as though the characters are constantly frazzled, on the edge of breaking down or making life-changing decisions.
That’s appropriate for the situation. The characters look weird, but they quickly grow on you, especially if you let yourself enter their world. The art feels independent, as though this professionally printed book is really a minicomic, and it suits the scene. I’m left wanting more, not because the book feels slight or stretched out, but because I’m grabbed by the situation and don’t want to be let loose.
I hope this comparison won’t put people off, because it’s a compliment: this is what Archie comics should be, gripping love stories about realistic teens with exciting occupations.
And the book’s even got its own soundtrack single! You can download Tristan’s song Love the Way You Love, performed by Lara Michell, on MySpace. Jamie S. Rich and Marc Ellerby have websites, and there are preview pages for book one at the publisher’s website. Give it a try for a great romance that balances angst and fun.