I’m always wary of stories about bands. I’ve been in a few bands in my day, and I find that, more often than not, people who write about bands without ever having been in one get it all wrong. This flaw can be incredibly jarring for those of us who have some experience in the area, even if the band itself is a secondary character.
I have no idea if Italian creator Gipi has ever been in a band, but I can say that he got it right. Whether by research, experience, or blind luck, he got it right. This garage band feels authentic, and it’s emblematic of the appropriately titled Garage Band.
From the age of 17 to 26, my life was defined, in part, by these two words: practice space. Save for the fact that the term “garage band” is more recognizable, “practice space” is perhaps the better title for this book, as it’s not until Giuliano’s dad gives him the keys to their old garage that the story begins. The band may be what brings our four main characters together, but it’s the practice space that allows the band to exist, and it’s the practice space the ultimately bookends Garage Band.
Ultimately, this book is a character study of four boys who get together to make some rock n’ roll noise. Gipi chooses to examine each of these characters in different ways, either by following them through their daily lives or by following those closest to them. The technique works well, as there are, perhaps, more revelations about each of these boys when they’re not in the scene.
Like most teenagers, Giuliano, Stefano, Alberto, and Alex are torn between wanting to be judged on the surface while claiming to have unknowable depths. They want the band to define them, but cringe when it does.
Gipi’s art reminds me of a mix of Kevin O’Neil and Guy Davis. It’s finished in watercolor, which takes away from some of the harshness of the character designs; there are a lot of sharp noses and beady eyes. It’s Gipi’s visual storytelling that stands out the most. His use of single panel pages is extremely effective. With the exception of one, all of his full-page panels feature open landscapes of either the road or the sky. The exception is a WWII poster of Hitler. It’s just as jarring as it sounds and it’s clearly meant to be.
Garage Band isn’t a plot-heavy story. There aren’t a lot of twists and turns. There’s no cliffhanger. However, its simplicity is deceptive. It is, in fact, just like its characters; more than just a garage band.
Just like the practice space is where they make their music, this book is where these characters are fleshed out–where they express their feelings about what’s going on in their lives. While being a teenager in a band might not be unique, and their lives might not be that unusual, it doesn’t mean their experiences are any less important.
Its authenticity is what makes Garage Band so good.