Tuesday, 8 February 2011

8/111 - Local by Brian Wood, illustrated by Ryan Kelly

I received this book as a Christmas present last year. It’s a huge, gorgeous hardback. Mmm. Pete got it for me, presumably after having noticed a copy of Demo on my shelves last year, which I had also very much enjoyed (and I’m looking forward to Demo 2 out later this year).

I really, really enjoyed this, for many different reasons which I’m still trying to digest, but I’ll do my best for now. The hardcover is a collection of twelve single issues, which were originally released once a month over the period of a year. They are each linked by the main character, Megan, and each ‘episode’ takes place in a different year of her life, so you end up with a little snippet of what she’s doing from the age of about 17/18 up until she’s about 30. The stories, each set in a different North American city, each have a very different feel to them; some sad, some angry, some sexy, some funny. They don’t all follow Megan, though she does feature in them all at some point or another.

I was really pleased to read this, not only because I’ve enjoyed Brian Wood’s stories before (and am now enjoying the artwork of Ryan Kelly) but also, very importantly to me, I was enjoying a story where the main character was a girl around my age, and sorting through some of the same ideas about your place in the world, or how to go about finding it. I have started to love comics, I think, and there are many that I have read and enjoyed whose main characters are not young women, and that’s okay. I think that perhaps before reading Local I hadn’t really even noticed it at all, but all the same I was thrilled to read something with a focus that could easily be considered too boring to pay much attention to.

I guess in the grand scheme of things, most comics are not aimed at women. The vast majority of them are written and drawn by men, and lots of them are probably also read by men. There seems to be more balance to this on the indie comic side of things, but with the superhero stuff, it’s glaringly obvious who the main intended audience is. So the focus of this collection is a breath of fresh air to a reader like me, and is just the kind of thing I wanted to read to keep me interested in comics as a whole.

Each story is a small vignette of Megan’s life, and out of the magnificent twelve, I had three clear favourites. The first one I really enjoyed was the Polaroid Boyfriend story, about a guy whose relationship with Megan consists of him letting himself into her apartment and taking photos of himself. Megan leaves photo messages in return. I love Polaroids and I also love sending messages in unconventional formats. I loved the idea of sending messages through Polaroids, and my enjoyment of this story was as simple as that. This story, like several in the collection, seemed to have the potential to become a little sinister and frightening. 

The second story I enjoyed was the room-mate story, Megan and Gloria, Apartment 5A. Megan moves in with a room-mate, Gloria, who has some very specific requirements of Megan. There's some kind of OCD and she also requires that Megan stay out of their apartment on certain nights… There was a kind of paranoia surrounding Gloria that made me very curious about her, and I couldn’t help but wonder what she was up to behind closed doors. 

My favourite of the collection is probably the story in which Megan works at a cinema called, The Last 10 Lonely Days at the Oxford Theatre. She appears to be the only member of staff there. She interchanges her nametags daily, each one with the name of a different girl, and Megan invents a new persona for herself with each different nametag that she wears. There's an obvious sense of loneliness and Megan's lack of identity here, that is probably a reality for most of us lucky twenty-something women.

Another really nice touch about this collection is the mini essays in the back. These were probably in the single issues, too, but it’s nice to see them all gathered together. It’s cool to read them after you’ve finished the stories and see what was going on behind the scenes at the time. I feel like I should say more about the artwork, but I almost don’t feel very qualified to say anything about it... not that I’m qualified to comment on the quality of the writing either, but hey. For what my opinion is worth, I really liked the art. Like Demo, I liked that it was in black and white. I think the essays in the back of this volume also helped me to appreciate in a new way the way the relationship between the writer and the artist works. I think that before I had read any comics, I might even have assumed that the same person did both, or that it didn’t matter. How wrong I was. It’s also very cool to look at the artist’s take on real places, even though I have never been to most of them.

The twelve stories are all linked and the collection rounds off in an unexpected but interesting way. All in all, a pretty cool book. I wish Megan all the best.

Next up is: The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave

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