Monday, January 03, 2011

Book-A-Day 2010 # 334 (1/3) -- Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly

"Don't bother with the local girls," a wise man once said, "don't bother with them, they don't bother me." But what about the girls who stay on the road -- the ones who rack up a dozen cities by the end of their twenties? Well, those might be the girls to stay even further away from....

Megan McKeenan -- whose first name we don't find out until page fifteen of the second issue of Local -- is that not-local girl, tracing a complicated path from Portland, Oregon in 1994 to rural Vermont in 2005, each of those years represented by a different city and a different issue of the original series of Local. The original plan -- as explained by writer Brian Wood in the afterwords from the issues, included in the backmatter -- was for the twelve issues to each tell essentially separate stories in different distinctive cities, with Megan being a thin connecting thread, a minor shared element. But, along the way, Local turned into Megan's story, and even the issues that move away from her story -- such as one about her skate-punk cousin Nicky, and another about her drunk and violent younger brother Matthew -- are essentially about her, in the end.

Megan starts out about seventeen, already apparently far from home -- the full details of her adolescence are never completely clear, but one theme Wood hammers on is that Megan's mother gave her a lot of freedom, practically shoving her out the door to be on her own -- and being pressured by her nameless then-boyfriend to be part of a really badly planned prescription-drug fraud scheme. That first issue has a stop-and-start structure that repeatedly replays the same situation in different ways -- unlike any of the later issues -- presumably of Megan running through various scenarios in her head before deciding on what to actually do. But, in the end, she hits the road, since that's the premise of the book.

From there on, each issue is a different city and a different year -- though the changing years is only explained in the afterwords by Wood and artist Ryan Kelly; it's not clear in the stories themselves. (And nearly every issue ends with Megan moving on, which makes the reader wonder if she's racking up dozens of cities in between the ones we see.) Megan is young, not just chronologically, but in that stereotypical heart-on-her-sleeve, always-ready-to-hurt-or-be-hurt way, which leads to many of her travails. She also has bad luck or bad judgment (or both), besides having a family that gets more dysfunctional the more we learn about it. Even though she's nearly thirty in the last story, she doesn't seem substantially older than she was when we met her on the first page.

Each issue is a solid story, but they don't add up to a journey for Megan -- though the twelfth issue wraps up a lot of elements from earlier in the series, Megan herself doesn't seem to be changed by her experiences. (And if Wood hadn't told me that she was getting a year older with each issues, I wouldn't have believed it -- though her job in issue #11 was surprising, based on her earlier life.) And I'm afraid I don't have as much sympathy for aimless youth as some people do, either -- Wood writes "does anyone have it all figured out at age 26?" in one of his back essays, but I found Megan to be vastly more confused than just not "having it all figured out." (And I was married before I turned 24, and owned a home eighteen months later -- maybe I didn't have it all figured out, but I had a trajectory, and everyone I knew was on a trajectory as well, for good or bad, mostly right out of college to jobs that turned into careers either on purpose or by accident, and with the other parts of life falling into place, more or less, along the way.)

Kelly's art, though, goes a long way to selling Local -- it's specific, with great photo-referenced backgrounds that always look drawn, and wonderful expressive faces that all look different from each other. I may have had less patience with Megan than Wood wanted me to, but I always believed her: there are thousands of aimless young people just like her, in one city or another this week, trying to find the place where they can settle, and finally become one of the locals.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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