Saturday, October 10, 2015

Thirty Days of Short Reviews #10: Towerkind

Originally published as a series of short Oily Comics-style minis, Kat Verhoeven's Towerkind is a comic that's both highly specific to a setting but also demonstrative of the wider importance of the concept of diversity. It's set in the Toronto neighborhood of St. James Town, which is made up of about 25,000 people in 23 different apartment towers and buildings. It's an incredibly densely populated area and one that's home to a number of different immigrant families, low-income individuals, etc. In other words, a true melting pot of interesting experiences, cultures and ideas. Verhoeven's series follows the lives of a number of characters whose lives inevitably intersect. There's more than a touch of the supernatural in this story, which also carries the kind of densely packed paranoia as the J.G. Ballard novel High-Rise. However, nearly every character here is a kid or a teen, giving it the kind of innocent resonance of a Max de Radigues, Chuck Forsman or Melissa Mendes story.

There's Ty, the self-proclaimed King of the neighborhood (his Kobe Bryant jersey is a tell-tale sign of his arrogance). There's Moses, the sensitive polyglot who gets accosted by Moses. There's Dina, the Muslim adventurer. There's MacKenzie, who can talk to dead animals. There's Maha, who sees visions of the apocalypse, and the "twins" DukDaniel, who learn to feel everything the other is experiencing remotely. Moses starts to notice animals dying mysteriously, including birds just dropping from the sky. Verhoeven deftly moves from quiet character studies to moments that nudge the plot forward slowly. Her multi-ethnic cast doesn't sidestep issues of ethnic identity as either character or plot points, yet the fact that there are so many different people in this area is simple an organic fact of life.

The mysteries surrounding the dead birds and the general weirdness in the air becomes a uniting factor; indeed, seeing through differences to make cross-cultural allies is the underlying theme of the series so far. Again, Verhoeven manages to do this in a natural, unobtrusive and informal manner, thanks to how sharply she defines her characters through what makes them unusual. Her drawing style is cartoony, but her line weight is thicker than any of the artists I've mentioned save Mendes. In her line, she combines a bit of cute with an air of menace, a description that can be used to sum up the series in general. The end of the story takes what seemed to be metaphor in the background of the characters' daily lives and makes it quite real, tying together each of their unique qualities and giving each of them a special purpose. Each difference becomes a strength, and saves this unusual aggregation of people when most everyone else is lost. Verhoeven combines admirable storytelling restraint through much of the book in order to create tension, unleashing a visceral barrage of images only at the very end of the story. As a result, it's an ending that feels well-deserved.

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