Hopeless Savages: Break
Sometimes you can go home again. I’ve always loved the Hopeless Savages series, created and written by Jen Van Meter. It ran from 2002-2005, was collected in 2010 (previous link), and finally had a new installment in 2015.
In cases like these, one worries that nostalgia won’t be enough, that the magic has been lost (and decade-older readers won’t recapture the same sense of wonder). Thankfully, that’s not the case here. Which is wonderful, since the whole series is based on generational change; how terrific that it managed the same thing! Hopeless Savages: Break is better than ever. This time, it’s illustrated by Meredith McClaren with flashbacks drawn by Christine Norrie (who illustrated the original series).
The Hopeless-Savages are fundamentally a family. Parents Dirk and Nikki met as punks, got married, and raised kids as unique as they were. Zero, the youngest, is the one we follow most, and now, she’s in college, suspected of being suicidal but mostly not fitting in. The Hopeless-Savages are good at that, but in such a way that their lives seem better, more balanced, more unique, more themselves. They’re freaks in the best way, the kind you want to get to know. That’s part of her problem — they’re all so much themselves that she feels even more pressure, knowing she’s still young and figuring herself out.
I always loved about this series the sincere feeling of family, of a place that accepts its unique members for who they are and values them all the more for it. That’s a bit of a fraud, though, as everyone has moments of uncertainty and need. That makes these characters extremely relatable, whether it’s an older woman still pursuing her career or a young mother uncertain what her babies want. They know they can depend on each other, but getting there can sometimes be a struggle.
Zero and her band are going on tour over spring break, right after she gets a particularly devious bit of revenge on her sorority-girl roommate. Zero’s language, particularly, demonstrates Van Meter’s skills. She’s got her own slang, words you’ve never heard before in those contexts, but you can still know what she means. As she points out, people who really listen to her get it.
McClaren’s art is odd in a comfortable way. Her characters’s faces take over most of their head, giving them an unnatural, elfin look that emphasizes emotion and suits Zero’s incompatibilities. Norrie, on the other hand, appears influenced by more classical mid-century comic art, which instantly conveys that the flashbacks are in another era.
Having worked with these characters so long, Van Meter’s storytelling is accomplished and confident. The theme is ending up where you need to be even if you take a really unexpected (or even misleading) path to get there. The cast’s lives have moved on in realistic and entertaining ways, and I was surprised to see the variety of villains, all corrupt in their manipulation and extraordinarily devious without care for what their actions do to others. So much deep storytelling means more discovered each time it’s reread. And the language professor reminded me of Connie Willis stories, some of my favorites, particularly “Blued Moon”.