ADVANCE REVIEW! Blue will go on sale in March 2012.
Pat Grant's Blue presents a look at the small, industrial town of Bolton, transformed from an almost American dream/1950s style utopia to a graffiti-filled slum. It is, perhaps, the prettiest comic I have read since Habibi released last year. In fact, I think it has a bit too much in common with Thompson's seven-year opus (of which I wasn't a fan). While Thompson and Grant both have developed spectacular illustration and storytelling skills in the comics medium, the meat of their latest works, namely the stories they tried to tell, leaves me a bit empty.
Grant opens Blue with a happy-go-lucky kid enjoying a day at the beach only to be shunned when he asks to play with a group of other kids building a sandcastle. I bet you thought the kid was our protagonist, right? Turns out it's Christian, one of the kids who smashed their own sandcastle so that nobody else could play in it. Eventually he grows up into a delinquent teenage surfer and then into a man who spends his days painting over graffiti.
It's through the adult Christian's nostalgic recounting of the time he and his friends skipped school to go surfing that we discover Bolton.
One thing that Blue has going for it is its length; it's a pretty quick read. Rather than focus intently on what caused the town to become the way it is when Christian's an adult, Grant presents a single event from Christian's childhood, and for the most part, he lets you fill in the rest.
On their day off, the kids steal from the local convenience store and, after sneaking their surfboards out of their respective houses, they catch word of a dead body. And what kid doesn't want to go check out a corpse?
There's an undercurrent of race issues present in Blue and I don't think it's a coincidence that the story we're presented with seems to be one of the first times the children see a blue person.
I'm generally a pretty big fan of slice of life or autobio (or thinly veiled autubio) comics, but for the life of me, I did not like Blue. The frustrating part is that I'm finding it really difficult to pin down exactly what it is I dislike about the book. I'm not particularly keen on the way Grant handles race and growing up, but that's a pretty broad complaint, given that it's the bulk of the story.
Perhaps it's that none of the characters are particularly sympathetic? It's one thing to say that kids can be heartless or cruel, but I can't remember anyone from my youth that mirror the kids of Bolton, who can feel downright malicious at times. They reach the point where, when circumstances make me want to sympathize with or at least pity them, it just doesn't come.
There's also what feels like a mixed message being presented. On the one hand, there's the implication that Bolton basically went to shit after the influx of blue people, which is clearly visible in the present day Bolton framing Christian's story, but at the same time we're shown just how bigoted the people of Bolton are toward the blues.
It feels as if the message being portrayed is “bigotry is shameful and wrong” while we're being shown just how great Bolton was before the blues showed up. There's even a beautiful side-by-side comparison, showing the reader how pre-blue Bolton was clean and how much of a mess the town is now.
Additionally, Grant does a brilliant job of showing the teenagers as at least mostly color-blind. They see the blues and know that they're different, but there's a curiosity among the youth, whereas it seems to be the older folks in society that are discriminating. Showing racism as learned, as a malignancy that grows and propagates throughout culture and doing so subtly deserves praise.
But there are books that tackle race issues far better and seem to provide a much less muddied message (the first that comes to mind is American Born Chinese), and at the end of the day, I care far more about whether I was entertained, especially when a book that tackles a tough issue doesn't really raise in me any questions about life.
I wanted to review Blue because it was one of the most beautiful looking books I had seen in a long time. Grant's illustrations are perfect and the way he handles panel layouts is superb, but at the heart of it all, there isn't much to Blue, and what story is there feels like it crawled up onto the surfboard and headed to deep waters before it was ready for them.
I eagerly await anything else by Grant, despite not being fond of the story in Blue, as his art is easily some of the most polished in the business.
But don't just take my word for it, go see for yourself! Grant has the whole thing online at www.boltonblue.com, and if you like it, Top Shelf will be shipping it out in March.
David Fairbanks doesn't get many things right the first time. He studied physics in college, loves science, music, comics, poetry, movies, books, and education pertaining to all of the above. He will talk your ear off about Grant Morrison and Ben Folds, has an indie bookshelf larger than his Marvel, DC and Vertigo ones combined and if he ever actually grows up, more than anything else, he wants to still be happy as an “adult,” whatever that is.
Mostly self-indulgent ramblings can be found at @bairfanx and untilsomethingbreaks.blogspot.com.