Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Strangetown #1

WeboComicsBlogoNet, you have disappointed me. During my blogging sabbatical, you neglected a truly charming and delightful book that deserves more notice. New-to-the-blogroll Comics-and-More noticed it, but that was about it. Strangetown is a new Oni Press series by Ian Shaughnesy and Chynna Clugston that revolves around a strange girl whose origins are touched my magic, and her adventures as she begins a new life in the town of Grangeton a.k.a. Strangetown. It is flying under the radar, and it shouldn't be. This title is performing an act of synthesis that should be studied and appreciated.

Strangetown is an odd title in today's marketplace. It's neither superhero nor navelgazer nor fight comix nor "new mainstream". There's a mystery at the heart of the book, but it's not a thriller. There's the difficulty of living on your own and finding your way, but it's not autobiography. There's magic, but not much. The art isn't manga enough to be called OEL, but it's too polished and clean to comfortably fit in "indy".

In fact, it's a bit of a surprise to see this published as a "floppy". If this were in a tankobon format, it might be hailed as a breakthrough translation of manga sensibilities to Western concepts. Though the art and writing doesn't proclaim the book as a manga homage, if I were pressed to compare Strangetown to any other comic ... it would be Fruits Basket. The setup is inverted here: instead of a normal girl living with a magical family, we have a magical girl living with a normal family (of sorts). It has much the same feel, though: intimate soap opera with hints of mystery and wonder. By pulling its mythology and setting from Europe, though, it avoids the feeling of slavish imitation that often can plague OEL, as artists and writers try to imitate the culture of manga. Strangetown avoids that, and it was only on a second read that I began to see the parallels. It's not wearing its influences on its sleeve, but the manga is definitely there.

Don't believe me? Want to see for yourself? There's an excellent PDF preview available of the opening sequence at the Strangetown site.

If those first pages puzzle you and you'd like a little background (and maybe a spoiler), you could do worse than to head to Wikipedia.



joncormier said...

Yeah I'm realizing I suck at finding good indy stuff even if I think I like it. I ain't fooling myself anymore. I can live with that, but thanks for the heads up. It will be purchased if found.

Greg McElhatton said...

Have you read Chynna Clugston's other books? If you liked this, definitely check out the SCOOTER GIRL collection and the four BLUE MONDAY volumes as well...

(QUEEN BEE is for a slightly younger audience but it's good, too.)

Mark Fossen said...

I read .... something during my last time reading comics - '96 or '97. Perhaps an early Blue Monday?

I quite enjoyed her moddish style then, and it seems to have grown quite a bit.