Teenagers From Mars
Mars is your typical Southern town. One group of kids are digging up a coffin. When they find a sword, they wind up reenacting fight scenes from Star Wars. Another guy’s ripping off the copy shop with the aid of an underutilized employee. They get away with it because the boss is convinced the kid’s on drugs; aren’t all teens? At the local Mallmart, an employee’s getting chewed out for selling a kid a comic with too much violence; who would have expected a superhero book would be unsuitable for the young? This series of opening scenes establishes just how bored and inadvertently destructive (of property and themselves) teenagers can be, especially when people constantly think the worst of them. Teenagers From Mars is written by Rick Spears and drawn by Rob G.
Another bunch of kids are partying as a crew films a zombie movie, resulting in some odd images as the makeup jobs are applied but ignored by most everyone. Macon (the former Mallmart employee) and Madison encounter each other in the opposite of a “cute meet” — he’s puking in the bathtub when he first sees her. Connections with other people might follow different rules when your life isn’t going the way it’s supposed to. The cast of characters expands, with scenes involving a comic reader and his parents, and we see more of the town, with visits to a pawn shop and a comic book store.
On their first date, Macon and Madison go to the movies (an old zombie flick, of course). I’m impressed by how the couple is shown with a casual attitude — neither one of them have anything to prove, because they’re comfortable with who they are — yet there’s a feeling of significance, since this is, after all, an early date in their relationship. I wouldn’t have thought characters watching a movie for a page would be that interesting. After all, it’s just shots of the back of their heads. The way the movie images, film dialogue, and audience interjections combine, though, makes for a worthwhile experience, a deep creation of atmosphere that keeps the reader enthralled.
Soon, events accelerate as the town puts comics under attack and Macon gets arrested. His comic art is confiscated while the comic shop is forced to close and the town holds a book bonfire. It’s always scary to be reminded of how close-minded people can be when pushed or frightened. By the end of the book, things have wound up firmly in the fantasy realm with an armed attack on the mayor’s office in order to take revenge in various embarrassing ways on the town officials. It’s an action movie from a teenage wish-fulfillment point of view. Shades of True Romance!
The title isn’t about science fiction; it refers to the alienation most teenagers feel from the adult world around them. Being grown up is associated only with responsibility, not with increased ability — no wonder parents use it as a threat and kids dread the idea. The teens wind up expressing their hatred in various ways, whether directed at someone specific or nothing in particular. The problem is their ennui, their desire to do something, anything, other than what they’re left with; they’re killing time until someone else pushes their life in another direction.
The sense of place is incredible. This is a real town, with real people and real lives. The writer captures the details that make up daily life while the artist beautifully realizes the variety of scenes with accomplished pacing that shows off those same details. The style that causes me to wonder if this is what Adrian Tomine would look like if he’d read more Japanese and horror comics. It reminds me of manga in terms of the figures and the sometimes exaggerated expressions, but it’s not simplified or cartoony.
The creators do an amazing job with everyday action. For example, the three-panel sequence in which Macon buys popcorn stunned me. They picked and executed just the right three images to sum up the entire experience we’ve all shared. The characters are active, so that we can see how they move from one moment to another, and their expressive gestures fill in their personalities. Macon’s jaunty salute at the end came back to mind when he later talks more explicitly about his philosophy of life.
Violence and desecration are parts of everyday life. Kids are blamed for descending to it even though they’re surrounded by it — not in the falsely blamed media, but from their “role models”. Society teaches us that standing up in the face of boneheaded decisions only gets you into trouble. So does defending yourself from casual perversion that dehumanizes you. As a result, events spiral out of control once someone feels the need to make a stand.
The scenes are set cinematically and carried out with dark grey tones for depth. The creators have an amazing ability to bring an awesome sense of imagination to the mundane. At other times, they’re making it appear so soul-killing that reading the comic stings. This comic is an excellent modern small-town gothic, a coming-of-age love story with the trappings of an action movie and comic books as the plot focus.