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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Review: Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly

Easily one of the best things I've read in any format over the last few weeks is the comic book series collection Local, written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Demo, Northlanders) and illustrated by Ryan Kelly (Lucifer, Northlanders).


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The series began as an experiment for Wood and Kelly; they wanted to write a limited series with each issue set in a different city in North America. They avoid the major cities like New York and L.A., focusing on mid-sized cities that offer lots of color and personality. To help with the local flavor they partnered up with artists in each city to get sketches and/or photos of key places---Bryan Lee O'Malley, for example, contributed a bit to the look of the chapter set in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Megan McKeenan---a punky twenty-something woman with wanderlust----works as the thread tying the twelve issues together. Each year she moves to a different city, and we watch her life as she finds a job, makes friends, searches for love, and tries to find herself. In the beginning Megan is primarily a device. She's the focus of the opening story, but for several in a row she functions as a secondary character.


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I was intrigued by Local but not really wowed until chapter 3, a story called "Theories and Defenses". The chapter looks at a successful rock band that started in Richmond and what happens to them after their own success drives them apart. The band members return to their hometown and we see how each band member deals with their new state in life. This chapter not only displays lots of local landmarks that I know---southern row houses, the Fan, Plan 9 Records---but it really nails all the personalities you get with a band. There's the cocky lead singer who wants to do a solo album, the bass player who just wants to go out and get laid every night and the guitarist who seems perfectly happy tackling the coffee shop scene with his acoustic guitar.


theories and defenses



But by chapter five Wood and Ryan return to Megan full force and the story becomes solely about her. She works at a historic movie theatre in Halifax, changing her name every day to confuse the patrons. In Minneapolis she develops a relationship with an odd guy who breaks into her apartment every day and leaves her a polaroid photo of himself. Later Megan has her life stolen and put on display by an art student in Toronto. As someone who switched jobs several times and spent way too many hours in my early twenties soul-searching, Megan's awkwardness, confusion and even anger come across to me as very real.

Kelly's artwork is a great match for Wood's story; the black and white indie look equates with the vagabond spirit of the story. If you are familiar with the city in a particular chapter, you will definitely see landmarks that look and feel like the real places. I also really like how he does faces; each face, be it a main character like Megan or someone who just walks by, has their own unique personality and they come across very well.


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As the series develops we slowly learn the reasons why Megan moves every year, what she's searching for and what she's running from. For something that started as a quirky experiment in comics, by the end it develops into one of the more emotionally effective stories put out over the last year.

Excelsior

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