Saturday, January 08, 2011

Book-A-Day 2010 # 339 (1/8) -- Motel Art Improvement Service by Jason Little

Good comics are hell on those of us with poor waiting skills: a decent writer-artist is lucky to have a new book-length story every two or three years, and it often takes much longer than that. Take, for example, Jason Little. His first graphic novel, Shutterbug Follies, came out in 2002, telling a story of mayhem and intrigue swirling around teenaged Bee, a photo-shop clerk in New York. His lines were crisp and rounded; his colors bright and vibrant; his story bouncy and inviting.

And it took eight years for Bee to come back for another story. Motel Art Improvement Service was worth the wait, but it does make me wish that graphic novelists could manage to produce book-sized stories as quickly as their prose counterparts.

Motel doesn't have much direct continuity with Shutterbug; this time out, Bee is setting off on a cross-country bicycle trip at the beginning of the summer, heading from New York to San Francisco. So her roommate, Lyla, is the only real common element, and she's only in Motel briefly. (In other words: Motel stands completely alone; no knowledge of Shutterbug is required.)

Bee's cross-country trip doesn't work out as she expected; very soon, she's staying in a motel outside Bohemia, NJ, and trying to figure out her next move. There she meets Cyrus, who is working as a housekeeper, but who turns out to be as quirky and odd as she is. (He was a budding art-world darling, but dropped out and now wanders around the country, "improving" the art at small motels he works at briefly -- oh, and he also steals 10% of any medication or drug he finds in guests' rooms. [1]) Cyrus and Bee continue on together, and get closer over the next few days, taking new jobs together at a fancier Newark airport hotel.

In that hotel, they get caught in the middle of a drug deal, with a hotheaded soldier on leave on one side and two squirrelly Princeton kids looking to make quick money on the other. There's also an art dealer following Cyrus's trail, with a proposition to make, and the senior staff at the hotel, where they're not supposed to be living for free while they work there. It all turns into a big, mostly-serious chase, which Little handles with a lighter, surer touch than the climax of Shutterbug. (Though the antagonists in Motel don't seem nearly as dangerous as those in Shutterbug.)

Motel is sunny and fun, thrilling and sexy, confidently adult enough to be silly and serious by turns. It's even better than the entirely entertaining Shutterbug, and I fervently hope that Little will be back with another Bee graphic novel before another eight years pass. (Would it be too much to hope for two? Maybe three?)

(If you don't trust my unsupported word, Little has a sample of Motel, and plenty of other work, up on his website.)

[1] As someone who travels quite a bit these days, and who carries carefully doled-out heart medication, this did not endear Cyrus to me; it is, frankly, a serious asshole move.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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