Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 16.51.21

Graphic Novel Review: Here We Go, Part Two

In this post, we take a look at the second half of Jesse Young’s Kickstarter comics project, Here We Go.

 

You can read the first half here.

Uncle Buck

We take a much darker turn with the next story, ‘Uncle Buck,’ told as a monologue from a father angry at his daughter’s ex-boyfriend. It’s a revenge fantasy, essentially: a man given a rare opportunity to confront the man who wronged his family…and enjoy every minute of it. There’s a deliciously dark undercurrent to this story, particularly when we consider just how it pushes our buttons: who hasn’t wanted to exact sweet revenge on someone who’s wronged us? More troublingly, how far would we go, if we were given the chance?

I think I enjoyed this story in particular more than I thought I might had someone outlined the premise to me ahead of time. If the likes of Breaking Bad demonstrate anything, it’s that corruption is something we can revel in if we feel we can root for the perpetrators of it. ‘Uncle Buck’ expresses that idea believably and succinctly.

The father of 'Uncle Buck' conveys a real sense of threat despite only being seen in glimpses. Source: Here We Go
The father of ‘Uncle Buck’ conveys a real sense of threat, while also eliciting a degree of sympathy. Source: Here We Go

The art in this story (by Matt Battaglia) is a lot rougher than that which appears in the previous four stories, but it fits the style of the story very well: it’s bleak and grim, and a fine match for the narrator’s voice. I got the impression that this father is something of a blue-collar worker- passionate yet unsophisticated- and the rough-around-the-edges nature of the art and the text mirrors that idea well. The use of more abstract, unhinged imagery in his angrier moments also struck me as a tactful way of representing his anger on an incredibly sensitive and difficult topic: an approach that artists like Osamu Tezuka also used to great effect.

Like ‘Forbidden Love,’ ‘Uncle Buck’ is a story with no real happy endings. Still, I think we have to respect Young in that he manages to create a character we sympathise with…even if their actions remain abhorrent against a backdrop of general wrongdoing. It’s also no longer than it needs to be: it has a premise and fills in just enough to satisfy us…and leave us shuddering in delight at the end.

Ex Occultus: The Sword of Peleus

Next up we have ‘Ex Occultus: The Sword of Peleus:’ a  more straightforward adventure story starring wise explorer Francis and his plucky young assistant, Hollander. Their search for the titular sword takes an unwelcome turn for the worst as Hollander’s hot-headedness lands them in trouble.

Joanna Estep’s art in this story is my favourite in the book. It’s clean, full of vitality and lends a certain optimism to the story that I thoroughly appreciate: it feels like a story anyone could read and enjoy. Despite its action-packed story, the action doesn’t feel like ‘Ex Occultus’s most important quality: the interplay between Francis and Hollander is, and the lesson Hollander has to learn ensures the story is satisfying. This is one story I would happily read more of: Francis struck me as a hugely likeable character, and a series of adventures with him in the driver’s seat is okay by me.

If there is any sort of message in 'Ex Occultus,' it's that pride comes before a fall. Source: Here We Go
If there is any sort of message in ‘Ex Occultus,’ it’s that pride comes before a fall. Source: Here We Go

It’s confusing, in a way, that while ‘Ex Occultus’ offers us both a resolution and a cliffhanger that feels satisfying, tales like ‘The Silver Street Boys’ fail on the same criterion. Perhaps the difference is that in the former, the action within the pages is exactly the sort of thing we’re reading the comic for: an adventure, or the start of one, with enough excitement to engage us. In contrast, ‘The Silver Street Boys’ tempts us with the meat of its own story before snatching it away.

Regardless, ‘Ex Occultus’ is an engaging and fantastical adventure story, and was one of the comics in the collection I enjoyed the most.

The Devil You Know

‘The Devil You Know’ is a story I have mixed feelings over.

In a nutshell, Death is…some kind of mob boss? Not content with ferrying souls to the next world naturally Death decides to mess around with people’s lives himself, taking out all the participants in a botched heist.

It’s a curious premise: for me the strongest impression of Death (as a character) that I have is probably Terry Pratchett’s take on him: a guy just doing his job whose attempts to act human end up backfiring sooner or later. Young’s version of Death is very different: vengeful, avaricious. There’s no real explanation: the story feels almost like a thought experiment. What if Death was a murderous, vengeful jerk? ‘The Devil You Know’ is one possible outcome.

Despite an intriguing premise, 'The Devil You Know' felt a touch too underdeveloped. Source: Here We Go
Despite an intriguing premise, ‘The Devil You Know’ felt a touch too underdeveloped. Source: Here We Go

Jason Copland’s artwork isn’t necessarily a bad choice, the loose, scratchy drawings suggesting a bleak and broken world. But when married with the slightly undernourished story it just contributes to the feeling the comic is…unfinished.

I suppose we can interpret ‘The Devil You Know’ as a reflection on the inevitability of death, albeit one dressed up in lurid new clothing. But the comic’s brief length meant the premise didn’t really captivate me: it’s a world I want to see more of, to understand, but there’s too little characterisation here for it to really hold my interest. That said, if Young ever returned to this, it’s certainly a world I’d be willing to revisit, provided he could put flesh on its bones.

EDIT: having spoken to Jesse Young directly, ‘The Devil You Know’ is the end result of an experiment: the story in Here We Go took eleven pre-drawn panels and crafted a story to fit them. I don’t know if this new information changes my thoughts on the finished product, but better understanding the constraints Young was working with gives me a better appreciation of what he achieved. Click here for more information.

He’s Heating Up

The last comic in the collection (barring another Android Jones story, but I covered that here) is ‘He’s Heating Up,’ which is in many ways a neat encapsulation of everything that’s gone before it. It’s small-scale but exciting, with a sting in the tail, the focus this time on a young basketball player and the sink-or-swim moment he’s being confronted with.

Once again the art is of a consistently high standard. In terms of story it feels like it’s  in a similiar place to ‘The Silver Street Boys’: it’s capturing the optimism and energy of youth, even if it rests on shaky foundations, and the very cartoonish art direction (the product of Michael Odom) is a good match. Indeed, the rapid panel transitions on display really sell that dynamism: I can picture this as a plucky 90s animated series, but in a good way.

'He's Heating Up' captures a certain dynamism in its panel layouts that I think works very well in the context of the comic. Source: Here We Go
‘He’s Heating Up’ captures a certain dynamism in its panel layouts that I think works very well in the context of the comic. Source: Here We Go

Admittedly, it’s a story in which practically nothing happens at all. But there’s enough excitement  and energy to keep us interested in spite of this relative inactivity. The fact it’s literally four pages long doesn’t hurt either: this is a story that doesn’t leave us hanging, particularly when a longer story would almost certainly outstay its welcome.

 

So now that we’ve arrived at the end, what do I think of Here We Go? Collectively, it’s certainly a fine showcase for Young’s writing talents: he’s able to carry off a wide range of genres well, exhibiting tension, excitement and melancholy in his stories. The variety of artwork is also a huge plus: for the most part it’s intelligent, well-crafted stuff that really brings Young’s writing to life.

Perhaps inevitably though, the brevity of each story is at times a problem, especially when they hint at further developments only to bring the tale to an abrupt halt. Stories such as ‘Here We Go’ and ‘Uncle Buck’ work very well as short stories, being no longer than they need to. In contrast, stories like ‘The Silver Street Boys’ come to an end just as the excitement really starts to build, and we are left wanting a resolution that may never actually arrive, while tales such as ‘The Devil You Know’ feel more experimental without there being a compelling or fleshed-out story beneath it.

Still, if we reconsider the book’s primary goal- to showcase Young’s writing talents- then arguably the book is a success. It offers some satisfying conclusions, while we can interpret his more unsatisfying cliffhangers as a way of keeping us engaged: we want to see more of his work, even if this reaction isn’t necessarily a positive one. That problematises the book’s status as a consumer product: is this book really for us, as consumers? But these are basically nitpicks in what I feel is a strong and varied collection of comic stories that I would recommend for anyone up for a little variety in their comics consumption. You can download a PDF version of it at Gumroad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>