"It's Doctor Who meets Sandman by way of Miyazaki!" exclaims writer Chris Roberson on the ad copy of Memorial — a quote you might be familiar with if you'd been reading other IDW books of late (I have). If you're going into Memorial looking for the book to directly correspond with that enticing pitch, you're going to find yourself somewhat disappointed, but what you will find is a promising start to a new and exciting creator-owned series.
Memorial follows a young woman who, in the opening, stumbles into a hospital with no memory whatsoever, only to be diagnosed with a type of psychological trauma-induced amnesia called "dissociative fugue" — after which she's given the name Em ("M" is the letter on her necklace) and forced to start a new life with a cute haircut and a job at a bookstore. When she buys an intriguing key from a curio shop, shit gets mad weird.
The milieu of Memorial — cute girls discovering a world of fantasy existing in the periphery, fantastical yet grounded bad guys out to get her, the odd talking animal — is pretty Gaimanesque, but you can tell Roberson owns fewer black tees and doesn't write with an open book of Keats nearby. Which isn't to say that Memorial is less literary or some stupid notion like that; it's broad and accessible like a good genre TV show. How about this: Memorial is an indie-pop take on Neil Gaiman territory, like a Bauhaus song covered by Cults — it's the kind of comic you could only make these days without having it look like an issue of Sandman dipped in mud.
What I'm saying is that Memorial doesn't look or feel like an obscure '90s Vertigo book thanks to the art of Rich Ellis, who I'm ashamed to admit I'm completely unfamiliar with, but nevertheless managed to impress me on the first try (not that he knew it was his first try, but still). Ellis hits that "animated realism" sweet spot shared by artists like Brian Hurtt and Cameron Stewart — good company, to say the least. Basically, guys whose art gets that dreaded "cartoony" tag because they look like grown-up cousins of '90s Disney films, as if that's a bad thing. Ellis' eye for detail is jealousy-inducingly great, and his characters are awesomely expressive, and his design for Em is refreshingly modern and fashionable, making her look enough like part of the book's intended audience for us to identify with.
Like most first issues these days, Memorial #1 is introduction and setup, but Roberson and Ellis introduce enough weird elements — An evil ventriloquist's dummy! A land inhabited by fictional creatures! A bear statue with less-than-noble intent! — to go along with the fantasy intrigue and keep me on board for the rest of the series.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery.