Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review of Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly

Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly
from here
Imagine your life broken into short stories. One story each year, starting when you're 18 for the twelve years until you turn 30.

Would you like the story? Could you trace uninterrupted growth, or would you find yourself backsliding into the old habits and same mistakes year after year?

These questions are woven throughout Local, written by Brian Wood and illustrated by Ryan Kelly. Intricate, lush and compelling, Local follows Megan McKeenan as she runs away from home and never stops running: each year brings her to a new city, a new set of struggles, the same old worries and fears.

This is my favorite kind of graphic novel: no superheroes, no doomsday devices, no trick endings. Wood and Kelly set out to depict life, and it is intricate and gorgeous and dirty.

Local makes a fairly easy read from a visual standpoint; the frames tend to feature clear middle to close shots of the characters in action. Unlike a Chris Ware, we're never left twisting the book around to figure out what we're seeing, and unlike an R. Crumb, the characters are photo-realistic, never twisting into the caricature of human that conveys more emotion.

As narrative, it takes a few stories to become engrossed in the plot. I feel, though, that this is true of most short stories, which might explain why I think of Local as a collection of short stories, rather than as a single novel. Although Megan is a central character in each episode, she is often peripheral to the actual dramatic tension. Much like Wineburg, Ohio or The Imperfectionists, each chapter is complete while a larger story unfolds around them. It's an interesting approach to writing and book, and one that could have backfired on Wood and Kelly. Kudos for pulling it off.

This was my third or fourth reading of Local, but the first time I've picked it up in a year or more, and I was (again) surprised by how much I had missed or forgotten. I was surprised by how engaged I was in watching Megan grow up; in past readings, I focused on the men in the stories (many and deeply flawed) or on the glamor and grit of each new city. This time was the first time that Megan kept pulling me deeper into the story. For most of her life, she is not someone I admire, and I'm not sure, even at thirty, that she is a person I could understand or like. But, having watched her grow, she's someone I empathize with because she's someone I recognize.

It's a must read if you love graphic novels, but are ready to move beyond the books they make into movies.

This was book 18 of 52 for my year-long challenge.

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