Graphic Novel Of The Month

Neil Young’s Greendale (DC/Vertigo): I’ve never heard the eponymous Neil Young concept album Greendale, but there’s no doubt this reinterpretation was a special project that strayed from a more traditional graphic novel’s inspiration or source material. It’s evident in the extra effort of the family tree provided, down to the obvious political and environmental concerns prevalent in the work. Writer Joshua Dysart’s voice can certainly be felt throughout the work with politically charged ideas like the Iraq War not being about terrorism, not even about the mythic WMDs that Dubya promised, but in a larger context it’s actually the thinly veiled “first resource war of the 21st Century.” For me, the book possesses a great sense of world building; I really enjoyed the inclusion of the family tree and kept referring back to it, fascinated by the repercussions of a woman named Ciela marrying two brothers and their various offspring forming two distinct branches of the family from that point forward. It’s about her quest to create a “flashpoint” by mixing her bloodline of… elementals is the best word I suppose, with the offspring of Mahalia, a scary old woman who is probably a low level witch that’s the last of her line. The book has two very minor technical flaws that I noticed. One is in the afterword, which mentions Greendale being a “Southern California town,” when all other references are accurate as describing it as a “Northern California town,” quite obvious from the geographic references to the redwoods and sequoias. The second issue is that if you know Northern California, you know there aren’t really any major airports north of Sacramento, so air travelers overhead would be cruising high at altitude and couldn’t see Sun’s anti-war sign, but I guess some small liberties were taken. I consider myself a liberal, but I was worried this book’s very overt treehugging hippie leanings would be a little too much for me to handle, and that was thankfully not the case. It’s not hippie de rigueur, but a legitimate examination of what could “activate the activists” as one character describes the dynamic. It also helps that the book is infused with the subtle sense of mystery and horror that the original Vertigo line was really built on, even including a nod to the 1922 T.S. Eliot poem, later alluded to in 1934 by novelist Evelyn Waugh, and last seen in these parts in DC house ads for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. It’s the line “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” Vertigo has always played with religion as a recurring motif and I was especially drawn to how it’s handled so subtly here. It’s not quite outright allusion, but more of a sly insinuation that Sun’s preternatural abilities portray her as a Christ figure, particularly in her ability to herd animals – sheep, of course. All told, the Green women keep disappearing, and it’s not by accident. They seem to be some form of elementals trying to establish peaceful coexistence with nature to achieve “…a sleep clean of heavy dreams” and avoid a charming personification of death. Dysart’s script also proves that he’s not all about cold research and social commentary, but can actually deliver a sweet line when necessary. “You made me feel important” is the type of line that belies “the quest of every young woman’s life to exist in a complex web of nurturing relationships,” a line I stole from The Wonder of Girls by Michael Gurian, a parenting book that is part neurochemistry, part psychology, that helps define female brain development and their subsequent needs. Visually, Cliff Chiang, Dave Stewart, and Todd Klein provide a stunning, quietly confident look for the graphic novel. Chiang’s phenomenal look is typically crisp and vibrant (Doctor 13), but that same palette here seems to be washed through muted earth tones, emphasizing the environmental connection to characters with names like Sky, Luna, Sun, Sea, and Stone. For my money, Chiang is capable of penciling some of the best looking characters in comics, especially his beautiful women, and I’m still waiting for the day he locks up on an ongoing series I can really get behind. His talent is deserving of status as more of a (comics) household name. While Greendale’s story themes and meaning are clear, the actual plot remains slightly obtuse. While that might push some readers away, it’s done after a tradition of Vertigo works that don’t assault you with exposition, but allow you to infer your own set of conclusions based on what’s presented. Both in Greendale and out here in the real world, that’s the point. It's the vacuum of mental agility in getting people, particularly the younger generation, to think beyond what they’re blindly consuming and beyond what the talking heads on TV are telling them, because “good government demands the intelligent interest of every citizen.” Grade A-.


At 11:32 AM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

I had this book in my hand, but unfortunately it was shrink-wrapped at my store. Wish I could have cracked it open to take a peak.

Your lines like, "a stunning, quietly confident look" beautifully and accurately describe what I've seen so far. And I dig your insights on Stewart's colors as "emphasizing the environmental connection to characters," and I'm assuming that connection extends to the theme of the book as well.

It was nice to hear your assertion of Vertigo's tradition to not, "assault you with exposition, but allow you to infer your own set of conclusions." I think it's easy to put a book down that we don't immediately understand, especially for our nanosecond-attention-span generation. You remind us that comics can be methodical and thoughtful, and occasionally require a similar attitude from their readers. I really appreciate the fine art (yet unpretentious) vantage point you bring to comics reviews.

...and I'm a little ashamed to say I've never heard of Cliff Chiang, but after your hopes of seeing him on a regular title and description of his character illustration , I think I'll have to look up some of his prior work.

Nicely reviewed,
Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks for the feedback, it's always validating to hear my lines are hitting you squarely as I intended.

You're right about works of art lingering. My immediate reaction to this book was actually kind of "eh," but I found that I kept thinking about it, it continued to swirl around my brain long after I'd set it down, and it grew on me. Sometimes you have to spend more time with a book you don't immediately like or understand in order to learn the most.

You haven't heard of Cliff Chiang? NO! He's one of my faves! He's done some Green Arrow work and misc. stuff for DC, but I love him for Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality. Please go buy it or see if your library carries it. I'll buy it from you if it doesn't charm your socks off.

PS - One good thing about Sea Donkey is that he cracks open at least one copy of the shrink wrapped goods as a display copy so shoppers can take a spin through before deciding to buy.


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