WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW, INCLUDING THE ENDING!
Kyle Garret: There are a lot of positive things I can say about Derek McCulloch and Anthony Peruzzo’s Displaced Persons, but I will start with this: it made me think about storytelling.
Displaced Persons is ostensibly the story of one family, at three points in their history. Each point features a relatively self-contained story, and each one of those stories stands well enough on its own. The first story, which features a private detective in 1939, stands so well on its own that I initially thought that it was the entire story. It was a nice little crime story with some added intrigue, told with enough depth that it felt complete. The other two stories don’t feel as whole, mostly because of what’s been established in the first one.
Still, both the story of twin brothers – one a cop, the other a drug runner – in 1969 and the story of an abused wife in 1999 could have made excellent stories on their own, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s initially how they were intended. I’m sure McCulloch meant for them to be connected by, at the very least, family, but was the supernatural element always there? In some ways it’s almost unnecessary, because the stories work on their own. But the ending is a real punch to the gut that wouldn’t have happened if not for that supernatural element.
Michael Bettendorf: That’s an interesting point. I wonder if he had the supernatural element in the park in the original script or if it sort of just fit its way in there. The supernatural element that plays into the disappearance of various characters throughout the stories is the thread that brings the story full-circle and binds it together. All three sections of the book could have been published as three separate trades, but that would have taken away from the overall point we believe McCulloch and Peruzzo present.
It seems that each section has multiple “displaced persons.” Of course there’s obviously the missing persons, but also Davy, who is Austrian and Jewish during WWII. His family was left overseas; he was alone until taken in by Gar and the Price family.
Kyle: Right, and he’s, in many ways, the catalyst for the entire story, as he marries into the family – the displaced person joining a family that seems fairly in place, but doesn’t realize that it isn’t. It’s interesting because, aside from Davy, the story focuses less on those who are displaced and more on those who are left behind. Gar’s entire life was built on the fact that his mother disappeared, right down to the fact that he went into business as a private investigator because he’d already spent most of his life searching for a missing person. Lily no doubt was impacted by not having a father, which led to her drug abuse and her exchanging one addiction (drugs) for another (her husband).
Michael: Oh, definitely. Displaced Persons is all about relationships. This book also shows relationships at their best and at their worst. We have Gar and Davy – friends and partners turned to family that we see as a close-knit family in their old age in the 1960s. They clearly have a strong bond, whereas Lily and her husband, well, it’s a toxic and horrible relationship. Richie and Daniel have a strange sibling thing going on that only gets strained further because of Richie’s affair with Daniel’s wife.
I think the idea of family and searching for family/family history is a crucial part of these stories and an obvious theme, but there’s also nuances of false histories, like how the Captain claimed he was cut by his mother which is his reasoning for his misogynistic views even though we find out later that his mother loved him more than anything and it was actually his father that caused the scar.
Kyle: That’s the perfect way to put it: “nuances of false histories.” Because many of these characters are creating their own pasts, some literally! Which, again, I think is part of the beauty of this book, that it’s not focused on the titular displaced persons, but what the impact is of those missing people, both those they interact with in their new time periods and those they leave behind.
Michael: Yes. It’s so interesting because we see the displaced persons out of their own timeline’s which affects not only those left behind, but now a second group of people who they are now interacting with in their new timeline.
So, the first thing that caught my attention was the art. Hot damn is the art great in this book. I had trouble putting my thoughts into words at first regarding the art. There is an incredible amount of detail in the panels, despite the drawings resembling sketches. The lines feel blurry sometimes, almost like they weren’t inked at all, but rather the graphite from a pencil was left on the pages. I noticed that the majority of the panels are filled with things (the details). There’re books, candles, telephones, chandeliers, bushes, buildings, etc., filling the panels instead of solely the subjects. A lot of newer books focus on people as subjects in panels or just the main focus, but Displaced Persons is different in that respect.
Peruzzo uses a lot of value to bring the characters and artwork out. The lines form the subjects, but the details are in the values of the gradient he uses. The grayscale used is wonderful, but also powerful. There is little color used, but when it is used, it is usually to focus reader’s attention to somewhere on the page or represent that something is amiss.
The story is also incredibly detailed. I mean, it’s a book 14 years in the works…the history involved in the timeline was sometimes overwhelming, but after reading it again, it didn’t feel overwhelmedIt’s clear that was not the intention, but the timelines at the beginning of each section were there to put the story in perspective I think.
Kyle: I agree. The art is great. Peruzzo’s work reminded me of Tony Moore’s stuff. The use of grey tones (brown tones?) played a huge part and I’m actually really glad this book wasn’t in color, because I think it would have lost a lot. The script is clearly detailed, more so than perhaps necessary, so the fact that the art was equally so made a huge difference.
The level of detail is impressive. The timelines included in between each chapter aren’t entirely necessary, which is a statement on how well McCulloch and Peruzzo fill in the history, yet they manage to do so without resorting to exposition. We can figure out from the story that Lily was a drug addict without the timeline telling us she went to rehab, but it’s understandable that they’d want to make sure we knew that, given what an important character beat it is.
Michael: Yeah, it was a clever way to give readers details about their characters without specifically mentioning so in the panels. I think that’s one reason it reads so fluidly because the writing isn’t bogged down with random or seemingly insignificant exposition or dialogue. The timelines were a great addition because we get to see the character’s lives not only in perspective of world events, but also their own life’s events.
Going back to the art for a bit…Peruzzo’s use of grays reflects how the world is not just black and white, that there is gray area sometimes. Two great examples of this is the relationship between Richie and Daniel. We’ve got the cop and the drug dealer, but they both make questionable decisions. Arguably Daniel has the kinder heart and better moral compass. He does what he does for his family, to give them a better life. He cares for his grandpa and even tries to help him with his research on the disappearance. Richie on the other hand sleeps with Daniel’s wife and it’s implied that it isn’t the first time. Neither is perfect, but it’s not black and white.
On the other hand, Lily’s relationship with her husband is black and white. He’s abusive, violent, and tries to manipulate Lily and her family for his monetary opportunities. Abuse of any kind isn’t ok – ever – and Peruzzo highlights the black and white of their relationship well.
Lily’s story is one of the saddest in the book. I cringed reading it because of how rotten her husband was and she kept going back to him and making excuses. It just wasn’t right and it didn’t sit well with me. Despite that, McCulloch presents an, unfortunately, all too real scenario where spouses or partners don’t leave their abusers.
Kyle: And the kicker is that the worst is yet to come for Lily, because we know what happens after the book ends. As a relatively new father, that just punched me in the gut.
I’ve found that reading digital comics isn’t the submersive experience that reading physical comics is, although digital is how I read them these days. The fact that I read a digital copy of Displaced Persons and was engrossed in just a few pages says a lot about this book.
Michael: Right? The story ends, but not for Lily – her second bout with facing displaced persons. Its heart wrenching, probably the saddest story of the book because of all of the loss she experiences. Being able to experience the loss and feel empathy with these characters truly attests the creative team’s ability to make quality comics. This is definitely a book that I will reread in the future.