Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Escapists

The description on the back of the dust jacket of this short graphic novel (published by Dark Horse in 2007) describes it as "An awesome heroic adventure, a heartbreaking coming-of-age tale," et cetera. Perhaps that should have been enough to keep me from buying it, but I'm a big fan of Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and so I didn't resist.

I'm tempted to merely summarize the plot, which goes something like this: geeky nerd buys rights to the character "The Escapist" (and, it seems, all the other related characters: Luna Moth, The Saboteur, and so on, although those details are not really addressed), gets his pals to draw and letter what he writes, gets into various jams trying to promote and publish the book, and eventually sells out and begins writing his own comics series. Given Brian K Vaughan's success in writing comics like Y: The Last Man, I'd hoped, frankly, for a more interesting story.

At a couple of places, the overlap between the nerdy teenagers' lives and the comic they produce is interestingly handled--though mostly it's a matter putting their dialogue into the word balloons of their characters. This serves, of course, to emphasize a kind of identification between character and reader/author that plays out in other ways in the book--which, perhaps unintentionally, reinforces comics as a kind of simplistic escapist fantasy. At the same time, the "new Escapist" comics that these kids produce is utterly boring to me (as I've said before, I'm just not much interested in superheroes: it may be related to why I hate evil). As such, however, it was hard to take seriously the idea that these kids had a new perspective to bring to the Escapist, or to any comics, which made it less successful as "an earnest defense of dreamers everywhere" (back cover text, again) for me, at least.

Still, there are a few worthwhile moments, not least of which is the setting in Cleveland, which is Vaughan's hometown, and some of the local details are used well. It's always nice to see the Terminal Tower in comics. And Chabon's Introduction is good: possibly the best part of the book.

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