Suburban Folklore tpb

Posted: Wednesday, March 7, 2007
By: Steve Saville

Cover of Suburban Folklore tpb Creator(s): Steven Walters
Publishers: Ourobor Books
From: USA
Price: US$ 10.00

The first three parts of this title have been reviewed separately earlier on this site and I urge readers to re read them as I agree with the sentiments and comments made by the reviewer. What I have here though is the complete story arc compiled into one graphic novel and therefore my review is of ‘Suburban Folklore’ as a whole rather than of its separate chapters. I must say from the outset that as a ‘whole’ it is a very satisfying and, for the most part, captivating read.

There are elements about ‘Suburban Folklore’ that invite the reader to compare it to ‘Ghost World’ and other contemporary works of that young adult angst genre. True the characters here are a little older that those in Clowes classic but the issues are very similar. These five characters wrestling with the end of adolescence are forced to, over the space of a year, deal with feelings of loss, love, loyalty, friendship, and overriding all of this is that ugly word ‘responsibility’ as each of the five has to make decisions about how they are going to cope with the world of adult responsibilities. The complexities and confusion that this creates is intriguing as each character copes in a different way.

What binds them is their friendship but it is a friendship that hurts as well as heals and often it does both at the same time.

The real connection I find with ‘Ghost World’, and possibly the most effective and compelling aspect of this graphic novel, is the prevailing tension that sits heavy on every page. Much of this is of a sexual nature as characters summon up the courage to commit physically and mentally to each other and others. The classic example is of Nate and Yessnia, two of the main characters who manage to share a bed on numerous occasions but never actually do anything, and even when they do try to ‘break the ice’ the tension is so strong that as a reader you can almost touch it [which is more than Nate usually manages to do]. In fact this tension is highlighted visually by the number of panels that show fleeting physical contact or near contact. It is as if the characters are often just holding themselves back from fully committing. Even when they are locked in something as passionate as an embrace they seem to be preoccupied or tense.

Tension is also created through that post adolescent feeling of stifling oppression as they feel smothered by the lives they lead in the town they grew up in but somehow not strong enough to break free.

The art work is a joy. The page layouts are detailed but not cluttered. Walters prefers to use a thin line approach to the rendition of his characters and this works well. The simple facial structures allow him to capture expressions with often a couple of single lines. The real strength here is the way the dialogue and character expressions compliment each other. It is, in fact, the quite splendid dialogue that real provides the real glue in the novel. Having said that the panels and even entire pages where there is a total absence of dialogue are so well placed and so poignant that they say more than a thousand words.

There is no doubt that Walters knows how to pace his work carefully and fully understands the old cliché that ‘less is often more’ when it comes to dialogue.
If I had a criticism of the art work it would be that Nate and Ash sometimes look very similar to the extent that the reader has to do some unnecessary work to distinguish them.

There are also elements that verge on the stereotypical especially to do with the settings; the inevitable witty banter in the comic book shop is becoming something of a hackneyed location and event and borders on being just that here. These minor quibbles aside though, ‘Suburban Folklore’ is a compelling read. I usually find the characters in this genre a little bit self centred and ‘whiney’ but Walters has managed to make them not only realistic but human enough so as to ensure the readers sympathy.

Its all about letting go and holding on and quite where to draw the line between the two and it is quite wonderful.

In a Word: Angsty.

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