Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review: Local

written by Brian Wood, illustrated by Ryan Kelly,
2008, Oni Press, 394 pages, $29.99

This is a difficult book to write about, because it is clear that it is a very personal, important work to its creators. And I'm not saying that because of some interview that I read; I got this feeling from the comic book itself. It's not some tossed-off mindless superhero book or a too-cool-for-school indie work. Brian Wood had something that he needed to say, and Ryan Kelly put his heart into drawing it. But while the book is an admirable piece of work, and worth reading, it has some flaws that keep it from being a truly great comic.

The book is a collection of twelve stories, mostly about a young woman named Megan, each chapter set a year after the previous one. With each new year, Megan has moved to a different city. We follow Megan across North America as she bounces between jobs, boyfriends, and hairstyles, searching for a place where she feels at home.

I enjoy Brian Wood's comics; his DMZ and Northlanders rank among my recent favorites. His protagonists are often young people like Megan who are trying to figure out their lives and their place in the world. I'll admit that I was somewhat put off by Megan for the first few issues, and I wasn't sure if I was going to come around on her even though I knew Wood was just setting her up to learn and change as a person. She seemed just too naive, too stubborn, too young and stupid. But by the time I got to the last issue, Wood and Kelly had succeeded in making me care about her.

(click to enlarge)

Ryan Kelly turns out some excellent artwork that gets stronger over the course of the book. He works hard to put the reader in each of the locations -- I particularly enjoyed seeing Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood -- so we get to go on a little tour of the continent along with Megan. But Kelly's real strength, I think, are the faces of his characters, which are wonderful to look at: expressive, interesting, human. In one of the essays included in the back of the book, he mentions how much time he spent trying to get everyone to look right, and you can tell.

Like I said, though, I had some problems with the book. One of the early chapters ignores Megan's story altogether and spends its time showing us the members of a once-popular, now-defunct music band, and how they are dealing with their lives. We never see these people again, and I didn't think the story said anything new about art, music, love, or any of the other things it was aiming for. It just feels like a misstep, and I get the feeling that the creators thought it might have been a misstep too, as the remainder of the book is much more focused on Megan and her family. Another problem, as I mentioned above, is that Megan's personality really grated on me in those early issues.

Overall, though, the work has some power and heart, and it does a good job of creating a real person and showing her grow and learn. When Megan's story was over, I regretted not being able to continue reading about her.

You can buy the book at the publisher's website here or on Amazon here: Local

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

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