Last week I posted my problems with the comic book series Morning Glories and how my take on the comic is much, much different from that of most readers (at least the readers I encounter and read about). This title is one of many that concern teenagers and young adults. This is not to suggest that they primarily appeal to the young, but I’m sure that focusing on teenage and 20-something protagonists serves to target a major comic-book buying audience. One of my problems with Morning Glories is that it presents the young characters in relatively highly sexualized contexts…especially in the ways in which the individuals (especially women) were drawn. I’m no prude nor do I have anything against what could be called the typical male propensity for representing young, curvaceous figures in comics. But there is something about the art in Morning Glories and its representation of 16-year-olds that is worth questioning. I know that young readers are picking up this comic, but I’m also aware that those over 18–or much more likely, those over 21 and into their 30s–are the primary readers, and the primary audience, for Morning Glories. In light of this, the way that these 16-year-olds are represented, both visually and in the scenarios they are placed, seems a way to provide older readers with some sort of titillation and erotic voyeurism. One could say the same about IDW’s Suicide Girls, another comic I’ve recently read. Actually, this title is much worse than Morning Glories: not as well written, more contrived, far more skimpy in terms of narrative, and much more skimpy when it comes to the young girls’ clothing. The one thing that Suicide Girls has over Morning Glories is that it’s blatant and upfront with its eroticism. They certainly don’t sugar coat their real intensions in this mini-series; you can tell by the many bear-breasted illustrations included in every issue. Then again, what do you expect from a comic book mini-series based on a soft-core pornographic website?
More interesting–and, frankly, better created–comics that concern young characters are Local and Demo, both of which were written by Brian Wood. The latter was an earlier work, a collaboration with Becky Cloonan (at least the first volume of Demo was earlier…the second volume, published by Vertigo, came out after Local). In this early example of Wood’s writing, the stories are intriguing enough but don’t have the more quiet sophistication that you find in Local. The original idea behind Demo, from what I’ve gathered, is to present a brief snapshot–each story in the series is contained within one comic book issue–of a young person with some sort of superhuman power and then reveal how this power affects his/her life. Toward the end of the first volume, Wood and Cloonan began drifting more toward realism and further from the fantastic, but the basic thrust of Demo was sustained throughout the series. The second volume of Demo is much stronger than the first, at least in terms of the art, and I guess this was due to the fact that a major publisher had picked up the mini-series. Cloonan’s art in the second volume is okay, but in the first her drawing was much rougher and less polished, although that seemed to underscore the rawness that you found in Wood’s stories of young folk in a dilemma. Still, and especially in the first volume, Cloonan’s art just struck me as a manga wannabe, and it didn’t seem to betray much craft or sophistication. Another thing about Demo is that while reading it, I couldn’t help but have the word “emo” or lyrics of Morrissey stuck in my head. It’s really an over-sensitive series, in a way. On the other hand, Local is a much better crafted work, it has more depth and a wider range of impact, and it’s more successful for several reasons. First, Ryan Kelly’s art is much better than Cloonan’s. He has his own personal style that may not appeal to everyone–and perhaps the worst you could say about it is that many of his characters seem to look alike, with similar facial features and little variation–but it’s well done and certainly eye-catching. Also, Local is a much more cohesive narrative. You could read each comic book–or chapter, or installment–as a self-contained narrative, and it works well that way. At the same time, the entire series functions successfully as one volume, and it’s much like a short-story cycle. Each of the twelve installments could stand on its own, but all of them together tell a larger, and more complete, story. They’re all interconnected through the presence of Megan McKeenan, a young woman who appears to a greater or lesser degree in each story–although in most of the story, she’s the major figure–and whose character builds as the overall story progresses. She’s certainly a dynamic character in that she grows and learns from her various experiences and habitations throughout the country. (The series is based on a North American geographic spread, where each location is the setting for a particular issue.) Of these two larger narrative exercises, Local is definitely a stronger title than Demo. And reading these Brian Wood stories, I now feel I should go back and reread the first several narrative arcs of DMZ–which I first read a couple of years ago–as well as catch up with many of the more recent issues I haven’t yet read.