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Graphic Novel Review: Here We Go, Part One

As a writer I think I’ve always been somewhat envious of artists. Writing requires digestion, comprehension to appreciate it even on a basic level, but a picture has an immediacy to it:  in many respects it has revealed everything to you straight away. This isn’t to suggest that drawing lacks nuance or depth, but I suspect that usually a picture will grab someone far more easily than a block of text will.

Budding comics writer Jesse Young seems to understand this: as he says, an artist can shop around a portfolio of artwork if they want to work in comics, while a writer‘s craft, in comics at least, has to be seen in the context of the finished product. And thus we have Here We Go, a showcase for Young’s writing and a collaboration with several very talented comics artists.

This isn’t Young’s first rodeo, by any means: the guy’s written a few comics in the past, but Here We Go is him bringing them to print for the first time. It’s a rather special book not just for Young but for me, in that it’s the first Kickstarter campaign I’ve backed as well as the first one to send me a hard copy of the thing in question. Physically, it’s a rather nice product: a slim but good-quality comic book roughly analogous to a trade paperback in terms of form, But enough of the packaging: what of the comics themselves? Let’s take a look.

Since this is a compendium of short comics, I’m going to be doing this review a little differently: I’ll split it up into two parts to make the reading experience a little easier to process. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the first four stories of Here We Go.

Here We Go (the short story)

Here We Go is, it seems, Young’s take on a portfolio and as such contains a mix of different stories and genres, each one a few pages long. First up is the short story ‘Here We Go,’ a sweet, almost wistful tale with shades of Pixar’s darker stories. Told from the perspective of a young boy, it offers a glimpse at the relationship with his mother and the madcap adventures they embark on on the way to school. Beneath the silliness- aliens, dinosaurs, monkey pirates- there are hints at weightier topics: dislocation, loss, being a single mother. For the most part, though, it remains lighthearted: after all, we’re seeing this from the boy’s perspective, and it’s a positive reflection on a happy time in his life.

Short story 'Here We Go' is a great introduction to the book and a showcase for a rather sweet relationship between two family members.
Short story ‘Here We Go’ is a great introduction to the book and a showcase for a rather sweet relationship between two family members. Source: Here We Go

The relationship on show here is also interesting: mother and son collaborating on a flight of fancy. In a society where being a  ‘mummy’s boy’ is something of an insult- both infantilising and emasculating- it’s quite sweet to see such a relationship presented in a positive light…especially since the ending is pretty heart-wrenching.

Attractive as the art (by Anwar Madrigal) is, I was a little thrown off by the colour scheme. Is it meant to symbolise a window into the past? Is it a mere stylistic choice? The subdued palette isn’t bad in and of itself, but its use here is a bit odd when its purpose isn’t really clear in the context of the story. Regardless, the overall art direction suits it very well: it feels like it’s been pulled from a Saturday morning cartoon, The Magic School Bus in microcosm, and the story as a whole sets the tone well for the rest of the book. Speaking of which…

Forbidden Love

The next story in the book, ‘Forbidden Love’ is a far more sombre tale. It’s a retelling of the country song ‘Long Black Veil,’ ending in the death of an innocent man. More accurately, he’s innocent of the crime he’s accused of committing, but the truth does not set him free. Quite the reverse.  It’s a moody, melancholy piece of comickery, with no light at the end of tunnel for its characters or its readership, and its brevity and execution make for a story that’s perfectly self-contained.

It’s a little more stylised than ‘Here We Go,’ making generous use of heavy reds and blues: something of an odd choice for a Western story, perhaps, but it’s certainly striking even if its application feels a touch inconsistent. The coloration jumps from one person to another, them appearing red in one panel, blue in another, and while it was certainly effective its use felt somewhat confused. The chicken-scratch handwriting is a nice touch, though, certainly selling us on the idea this is a man’s last letter to the woman he loves.

Forbidden Love's use of colour helps to set it apart from other Western stories. Source: Here We Go
Forbidden Love’s use of colour helps to set it apart from other Western stories. Source: Here We Go

The execution of ‘Forbidden Love’ lends it the air of some great tragedy: it put me in mind of Dorian Gray, who looks upon his lover Sibyl Vane’s death as some great work of art rather than the horror it really was. Unlike Dorian, however, Young takes the story seriously, and it ends on a gloomy note that stayed with me after I’d finished reading it.

 The Silver Street Boys

The third story, ‘The Silver Street Boys’ is a more straightforward adventure story, a slice of carefree American suburbia long since departed. One evening, a boy is looking through some old things in the attic when he stumbles upon a bunch of newspaper clippings.

If there’s one thing that really stood out for me in this story, it’s the characterisation: for the most part it feels a little too honest considering who’s telling it. The titular Silver Street Boys often come across as thoughtless and mean-spirited in the course of the comic: is the father telling the story with the hindsight of maturity? Is this a plausible scenario? I can’t decide, even if I do respect the decision to show just how cruel kids can be.  I also respect the sting in the tail that the story presents right at the very end, something of a recurring theme through the book as a whole.

'The Silver Street Boys' is a charming, honest (perhaps too honest) look back at a forgotten age. Source: Here We Go
‘The Silver Street Boys’ is a charming, honest (perhaps too honest) look back at a forgotten age. Source: Here We Go

The artwork in the story is spot-on: drawn by one Brent Schoonover,  it’s the perfect companion to a tale of four plucky American boys out looking for adventure. It’s just a little bit gloomy, too, the setting sun a subtle hint at the dangers on the horizon.

Some might argue it lacks originality, but ‘The Silver Street Boys’ knows exactly what it wants to do and carries it off with aplomb. The only other problem I think I have with it is that it ends on something of a cliffhanger: I want to read more of it, but whether or not more is coming is unclear. Still, what we do have is certainly enjoyable enough.

The Daring Adventures of Android Jones

‘The Daring Adventures of Android Jones’ is the next story in the collection, and to be up front about it it’s also my least favourite part of the book. Earl Nathaniel Harrington Jones is a plucky, cyborg space explorer with a propensity for throwing himself into trouble. Accompanied by his long-suffering robot companion Pip, Jones fights monsters and annoys alien species before jetting off on the next adventure.

While Jones’ carefree, devil-may-care attitude might be appealing to some, I just found him irritating and thoughtless. He’s a a guy that breaks the rules and relies on his friends to bail him out for nobody’s profit for his own. ‘The Silver Street Boys’ at least has the possibility of remorse in the way it’s told and that story that’s framing it: a father telling his son about his youth. ‘Android Jones’ has no such excuse, and it makes the premise feel like something of a dead end without evidence that Jones has the capacity to change.

Android Jones may win some fans, but I personally found his attitude infuriating rather than ingratiating. Source: Here We Go
Android Jones may win some fans, but I personally found his attitude infuriating rather than ingratiating. Source: Here We Go

At least the artwork is nice: a colourful, fantastical take on sci-fi that never takes itself too seriously. It’s the sort of tale that could probably have been published about fifty years ago without having much difficulty in finding an audience, and I mean that in the nicest way. It’s just a pity that the actual story isn’t a bit more appealing overall, and considering Android Jones actually makes two appearances in the book it makes his character that little more frustrating.

Well, I think that’s enough to be going on with for now. Keep an eye on the site for Part Two, which looks at 80s film references, riddles of the sphinx and much more.

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