A few weeks ago, I fell into an Amazon gift card, and instantly used it to grab the new Haruki Murakami novel (I’m maybe 100 pages in, and that’s about 1/10th through, which is just awesome). With a few bucks left, I didn’t have enough for a new anime series or longer graphic novel, so I decided to take a chance on Brian Wood’s (of DMZ and indie comic-fame) digest-sized, estrogen infused “The New York Four.”
“NY4” is a piece that oozes femme power, created by two men. Which isnt’ to say male writers can’t write chick flicks (ask Alan Heinberg). In fact, the male perspective might even do the overall story good, as it becomes more a tale of a shy girl realistically growing out of her shell, instead of being weighed down by clique drama, boyfriend drama, “BFF”drama, and all other forms of overall…drama. Not once did an argument succumb to the expected verbal jabs of “bitch,” “whore,” or “slut,” even when the scenario gave every possibility to “go there.” And for this, readers, both male and female, can be thankful.
The story follows eighteen year old Riley, as she embarks on the first days of her undergrad at NYU. Riley’s an expert on living in the city, but has the social skills of a groundhog. The ensuing four chapters recount the events of her first semester. Making friends, betraying friends, falling “in love,” and the so forth. All the standard tropes of a teen soap are on display, but it stays grounded, largely because Wood never places too much emphasis on any one event (which is a neat strategy, since every single event in a teenager’s life is often “life or death”).
Wood attempted to make “NY4” as much a story of the city as the people who inhabit it, and artist Ryan Kelly’s art did that justice (or at least, as much as someone who has never visited the Big Apple can imagine). The backgrounds in the panels are beautifully detailed (when depicting the city, at least), and they have a life of their own. The city becomes a character, in its own right, and has as much influence over the characters’ thoughts and actions as the plot. I’m personally not a huge fan of Kelly’s character designs (in this comic. I normally love Kelly’s work, and he did one of the best Supergirls I’ve ever seen), and I don’t find any particularly memorable. The swollen lips and ultra-handsome dudes both hearken to an American shojo manga, a comparison the black and white aesthetic only emphasizes. But the girls look real, and when considering the intended audience, that’s probably what they intended. Girls don’t want to read a story about a group of supermodels trading stories of various rhinoplatic endeavors. Though, that might not be the worst idea for a comic aimed at men.
More than anything, my main complaint is that I wish there was more. Normally, that’s a compliment disguised as a complaint, but here, it definitely falls on the former. The story is rather short, clocking in at 160 pages. In a graphic novel, that doesn’t leave much time to develop a whole lot, and with that in mind, the writer and characters (well, the protagonist, at least), made a commendable effort in finding their voices in the allotted time. Unfortunately, it was just too short, and at times, I don’t feel Wood made the best of the space he had. I’m pretty sure the work was always intended to be a long-running series, so many of these complaints will fall short as more chapters are released. As a stand-alone piece, though, the unresolved foreshadowing and lack of character growth is slightly disappointing.
Overall, “The New York Four” was a well written graphic novella (is that a term? I feel that should be a term). It didn’t bend the genre, or advance the comic medium. It was an entertaining work that kept me enticed enough to one day pick up this year’s sequel, “The New York Five.” It fully realizes the idealism of youth, and the benefits and troubles that arise from it. Friends are fun, parents are jerks, and life can be breathtaking. Nothing about it blew me away, but I wonder if it was even intended for me in the first place.
See ya, indie fangirls,
The Active Time Blogger