A book like The Cute Girls Network is a sign of the health of the comics industry. A slick, cute romcom about Jane, the sassy skater girl who falls in love with the klutzy dork Jack over the protests of her disapproving friends, this is as far from stuff like The Walking Dead and Thor as, well, The Big Bang Theory is from The Walking Dead and Crazy Stupid Love is from Thor. And that’s awesome, as far as it goes, because it means that First Second Books, a division of the world-spanning Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, sees money to be made in producing a romcom GN about a group of directionless twentysomethings.
This is basically a perfectly satisfying book. It’s mostly clever and funny, with a pair of leads who are complex and flawed while also fairly charming and interesting. Well, I found Jack’s quirks to be really dang annoying after a while, to be honest, but Jane is surprising and quirky herself, and brings out the best in Jack. While I might have had trouble figuring out why this pretty cool girl liked this dorky guy at the beginning of the story, by the end it all fell together nicely in a sweet way.
But the book has its flaws. Its flow is rather awkward at times, with scenes that shift and wander in ways that don’t quite work to make the narrative flow smoothly. An early scene of a date goes on too long while other scenes are too short. I was also annoyed by how quirky some of the characters are in this book, an effect that’s magnified by MK Reed’s art that tends to exaggerate emotions a bit too much. It’s one of the truisms of comics art that emotions can easily be magnified by just a few lines around the mouth and eyes – Charles Schulz’s art was built on that principle – but there’s just an awful lot of emotiveness in this book, a whole lot of significant smiles and thoughtful eyes and meaningful body language. That gives the characters quirky life, but the effect wears off the deeper I got into the book, to the point where I found myself craving just a little bit of neutral body language on some of the 180 pages of this book.
The idea that gives this book its title is the idea that there’s a network of girls who are always comparing notes about the men in their lives and making sure that their friends don’t make the same mistakes that they did – a kind of personal social network that’s used to warn women about the men that they want to date. It’s a clever enough idea but strangely off-center for me, especially the emphasis on actual social contact during the internet era, and the feeling that the network exists mainly to trash-talk any man who crosses their paths. I can certainly imagine a network like this existing, but I can’t imagine it being central to this character’s life in any way.
All that said, this is a cute, quirky (there’s that word again – but it fits!), charming book that fills a gap that we have in the world of graphic novels. Means, Reed and Flood create a graphic novel filled with pretty ordinary people having pretty ordinary experiences, which is shockingly rare in the comics industry these days. It’s great that GNs in America are in a place where The Cute Girls Network sees print. I hope First Second keeps publishing material like Cute Girls because we need stuff like it.