- Posted by Johanna on September 17, 2011 at 6:15 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Paul Hornschemeier
- PUBLISHER: Villard; $22 US
It’s a wonderful time that we live in, that so many good books come out every season that it’s possible to completely miss one. When I saw Paul Hornschemeier at SPX this year, I hadn’t even heard of his latest, Life With Mr. Dangerous.
I was intrigued by the concept — a young woman tries to find purpose in her aimless life by obsessing over a cartoon show — even though it sounded a bit familiar. There are a number of stories in various media about that time of life, so I hoped that the pop culture element would give it a fresh aspect. I was wrong about that, but in a good way. The cartoon didn’t play as much of a role as I thought it would, but I was still affected by the insightful portrayal and quiet transformation of the lead character.
Amy doesn’t have many people in her life. There are her co-workers at her generic retail job. She breaks up with her boyfriend Eric, only he doesn’t seem to care much. Her mother is trying to do the right things but ends up reminding her of how mismatched they are. Her only lifelines are a long-distance friend, Michael, and her cat.
I was struck by the distinctive look of the opening pages. The first 12 pages or so, including the titles, copyright, and endpapers, are full-bleed with no borders. They’re images of items that make sense later in the story, presented in well-designed fashion and lovely, subtle colors. That palette continues through the book, and it makes up a major part of how attractive and approachable the work is. The beiges, browns, roses, and faded greens ground the book, making it seem both realistic and yet softened. They provide a level of comfort that helps make Amy’s feelings less painful, cushioning the drop.
The revelations Amy comes to learn about herself develop slowly but naturally. The ennui is something most people have gone through, and Paul Hornschemeier’s deliberate pacing and simply straightforward style recapture that feeling as the reader progresses.
I was struck by how Amy is conflicted between the show she loves (no matter how silly it seems to other) and deciding whether to hang out with someone else who doesn’t like or get it. That’s a struggle anyone with a passion or fandom has experienced. Her contempt for her own decisions leads to her taking her disgust out on people trying to reach out to her, thereby worsening the situation. So much of her life is underscored by fear that it’s a pleasure to see her starting to make her own decisions and the way her life improves as a result.
What sets this book apart from many others similar to it is that this story goes somewhere. It’s not a portrait of how rotten things are; instead, it carries a message of change and hope. I’ve known of Hornschemeier’s work since his early self-published issues of Sequential, and I’ve admired his extensive formal skill as long, but this is the first of his books that has really touched me.
Here’s a video interview with the artist where he talks about the importance of story and integrating all the elements of a comic.