This past August a Vermont farmer, in response to a recent arrest, drove his tractor over seven county police cruisers. This delighted Vermont novelist Howard Frank Mosher, who wrote "Never again will some smart-aleck book critic in New York or Los Angeles be able to claim my Northeast Kingdom novels and characters are over the top." Mr. Mosher is justified in his smugness; it is terribly daunting to capture the bucolic character of the Green Mountains and the denizens therein. Jesse Lonergan, however, has no problem telling a masterful story set in small-town Elizabeth, Vermont where his latest comic, All Star takes place.
The story opens with Elizabeth's high school baseball team losing the game that determines if they go to the play offs. The stakes are clear, the tension builds and Carl Carter blasts a home run off the page, out of the panel, and (in true small-town fashion) into some poor bastard's windshield. The success of All Star does not solely rely on Lonergan's crisp lines and ability to slam fastballs through panel borders, however. Lonergan knows what and who he is writing about, and is confident in the delivery. This is best captured in his understated, yet earnest, characterization of Carl Carter's father. Growing up in rural Vermont I am positive I knew and threw back a few beers with this man:
It is through these small, otherwise mundane, details like Gordon's inspection stickers that give Lonergan immense credibility as a storyteller. He makes small offerings to the reader and, when taken, they allow one to visit this small town. Other deliberate, but quiet, choices open up small forgotten moments, and the hilarious inanity of them.
Lonergan's aptitude in his craft ultimately lies in his ability to evoke emotion. After I was done smirking at familiar characters and nodding at forgotten pop culture, Lonergan gave a lesson in injustice; the protagonist's best friend, Esden, is forced out of his room by his lascivious brother. Esden slumps at his front door, unable to sleep or complete his homework.
Notice the intermingling tails of the speech bubbles and shudder for poor the boy. Shame. Derision. One would have to be a sociopath to not feel for poor Esden, stoically looking up into that dark Vermont night.
That's what makes All Star great. It's not his well-balanced black-and-white composition or crisp line work; it's his ability to make these small-town characters sympathetic, his ability to make us care. In short, I will be genuinely happy to get my hands on Chapter Two. Not psyched or stoked or excited. Just earnestly glad I get to take another trip to Elizabeth.
All Star can be found wherever Jesse Lonergan is, and I have not known him to miss a convention. Chapters 1 and 2 are out, and scuttlebutt is he has a publisher on deck. Additionally, his blog and the myriad of awesome projects contained there are not to be missed.
Ryan Anderson shapes malleable young minds as a tutor in Seattle. When not committing that dubious act, he can be found overcome by the abundance of comics out there catalyzing thought and evoking emotion. He wants to make sure you read those comics, too. Pithier reviews, devoid of any real gravitas or credibility, can be found on Twitter at @TheRyanReview.