Pawn Shop, while no means a perfect comic, does several things right, and it’s the kind of graphic novel I’d like to see more of.
Storywise, it’s the equivalent of that indy movie you never heard of before that you stumble across while browsing a cable channel or Netflix. Four lost souls in the big city each get a short story about what they need to be happier than they are now. The ad copy describes them as “a lonely widower, a struggling Long Island Railroad employee, a timid hospice nurse, and a drug-addled punk” (but interestingly, the train conductor is female, as is the punk, while the nurse is male).
That allows for a structure that works in today’s market. Originally four issues, the story is satisfying in each chapter, since each features one protagonist. Read together, though, there are additional connections visible that make the whole thing more rewarding. And overall, it’s refreshing, composed of small notes of hope in otherwise mundane, sometimes struggling lives. The story is about people, not a gimmicky situation or ridiculous ability.
The biggest problem is that the art isn’t quite there yet. While I always knew what was going on in the story, there were panels where the faces, in particular, looked oddly deformed, which throws off the reader getting lost in the experience of someone else’s life. (Continuing the movie comparison, it’s as though one of the ensemble cast was someone’s buddy or girlfriend instead of being selected for acting ability.) The backgrounds, though, essential for this kind of story and its dependence on sense of place and setting, are well-done (with the exception of the titular pawn shop in chapter one, which appears to be full of empty shelves).
The third chapter, about the “punk” woman who’s drawn into criminal activity by a bad ex-boyfriend, was my least favorite. It’s the kind of story TV does too often, and key decisions are left out or glossed over, damaging to such a character-driven story. I also thought it needed an introductory caption of “two days ago” or some such, because reading them all in a row, the jump back in time can be confusing.
Much stronger are the other stories, with chapters two and four working particularly well together. (Film fans may note echoes of Laura Linney’s storyline from Love Actually.) The dialogue is strong, with additional meaning that reveals itself after all the pieces of the story are in place. The internal monologue narration is substantial, without falling back on cliche.
The widower is looking for one last memory of his beloved departed wife. The nurse needs the strength to try to tell the woman he likes that he likes her. The criminal needs to stand up for herself. The conductor has to come to terms with a family struggle. With its interconnections, this is the kind of story that can only be told about a certain kind of place, one where disparate strands can be expected to meet, tangle, and unspool in a different direction. Yet it makes that huge city much more personal and small-scale.
The collected Pawn Shop will be out later this fall from Z2 Comics. Find out more about writer Joey Esposito or artist Sean Von Gorman at their websites. (The distributor provided a digital review copy.)