Monday, February 27, 2017

Minis: Ricky Miller/Julia Scheele, Colin Lidston

The Age Of Elves #1, by Colin Lidston. This mini (published by Robyn Chapman's Paper Rocket Mini Comics) is a bit of a rarity these days: a straight-ahead, slice of life story. These used to be as common as autobio back in the 90s but it's a kind of storytelling that's fallen a bit out of favor these days. The story is going to be familiar to many comics readers, as it's about a group of friends who happen to play fantasy role-playing games together. It's set in the year 2000 and the initial focus of the story is on Sarah, one of four high-schoolers who are getting set to go to a big gaming convention. She has dreams of being a fantasy illustrator and the story begins with her showing her portfolio to her high school art teacher and then talking with her dad. There's a diner scene where she argues about the film Pulp Fiction with her friends Evan and Jamie, and then there's a montage of game-playing at their friend Bram's house.

This issue is in every sense an establishing point meant to set mood and give the reader a sense of the story's pace and stakes. It is unspoken, but it is also clearly a story of finding your tribe after not fitting in (the time period is key, as geek culture had not yet completely overtaken popular culture at that point) and finding ways to express your dreams. Evan is a familiar sort of character as the sort of Asperger's-spectrum literalist who is often drawn to gaming, and while Bram does not utter a word in the story, it's clear that he comes from a socially awkward place as well. These characters are the bizarro Eltingville Club, as their love of gaming and fantasy has become fused with their friendships in a positive way, as opposed to the possessive and competitive manner of those Evan Dorkin. It's a case of having specialized interests and knowledge and choosing to share that knowledge and spread it as opposed to hoarding it as a hard-won treasure. There is a warmth that Lidston expresses in this modest story that has everything to do with his drawing. The body language of the characters when they're gaming is comfortable and grows moreso as the evening goes on and the natural introverts fully commit to forming connections. Lidston uses a loose but naturalistic style that allows for a few grotesque flourishes here and there; none of his characters are conventionally attractive, and he takes advantage of this to emphasize their humanity and connection rather than as objects of ridicule. The verisimilitude of the dialogue is another key to the issue's success, and I imagine future issues will zero in on particular hopes and dreams of all the characters, as well as dissect the group's dynamic. All the reader needs to know with this issue is that these four people are friends who genuinely enjoy spending time with each other.

Metroland #2 & #3, by Ricky Miller, Julia Scheele, et al. The first issue of the series introduced us to Ricky Stardust and Jessica Hill, two members of a band called Electric Dreams. Jessica had a profound impact on Ricky's life in a story that might be labeled speculative musical fiction. The world as we know it is slightly different, mostly in terms of its music, which was initially revealed when a poster for a Beatles reunion tour was seen on a building. Everyone who met Jessica knows there was something strange about her, but only Ricky (who would disappear for days at a time with her) knew the truth. At the end of the first issue, we see Jessica pull Ricky through a mirror in a club called Metroland, off to what we presume is some kind of fantasy world.

As it turns out, as we see in these next two issues, that wasn't quite it. Issue two is told through the point of view of Kathy, the forceful and charismatic keyboardist of the band, who has apocalyptic dreams. Her life is kind of a mess and gets worse when Kurt Cobain kills the year 2014. She loses her job, she's worried about the band's future and her Five-Year-Club (formed by David Bowie enthusiasts who feel like they can figure out the date the world will end) is made all the more dramatic when she declares that the date of the apocalypse came to her in a dream. Meanwhile, Jessica has apparently gone for good and Ricky is increasingly despondent and erratic as a result. The third issue starts to make plain what had been hinted at, thanks to the band's roadie being hired by two members of the band to find out more information about the relationship of Ricky & Jess.

The third issue is quite a bit of fun as a result of the fleshing out of alternate music history, conspiracy theories and internet paranoia--all of which is true. As it turns out, Jessica came from the future to observe and influence various musical scenes, and Ricky became part of it. He went back in the past and "fixed" things: helping Brian Wilson finish Smile, stopping John Lennon's killer, making sure that Janis Joplin didn't die, getting Elvis healthy, etc. The problem is that in the modern day, Ricky (who became the producer Ricky Starwalker in the past) is having trouble keeping things together, which leads Kathy and others to believe that the whole world will come crashing down. Miller takes the reader down some surprisingly byzantine paths with the time-travel and reality-altering qualities of the story, but always keeps it anchored in the band's dynamics. Miller also introduces a wild-card: the fact that Jessica has a daughter who lives in the future and idealizes the music of the past like her mother.

This is the story not just about a band, but the ways in which bands are fragile, can grow and mutate and oftentimes cease to exist. Scheele keeps everything grounded with her superb character design and understanding of body language. The humor in the book is often down to the way she draws the characters reacting to one another. The contrast in pink and midnight blue as the book's two tones reflect the conflict between the dreaminess of life in pink and the darkness and uncertainty that are represented by midnight blue. This is a story about finding in-between places, creating magic in tiny pockets of time and immortalizing those fragile moments of collaboration. Ricky's story is one where he cannot be satisfied with those moments and tries to find a cheat code to make them last forever, and this issue starts to reveal the implications of the problems that come with taking shortcuts.

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