In a world even crueler than our own, Slow Storm would have been a short self-published comic that you find in the oft-ignored minicomics section of any comic book shop awesome enough to have a minicomics section. You’d spend a few minutes reading it, be impressed at Danica Novorodoff’s knack for conveying human emotion in a few short pages, and then watch the trail go cold on Google as you try to see if she’s done anything else. You would assume that she’s an MFA student who self-published this one story and couldn’t afford to do another. Then you would go back to reading Adrian Tomine or somebody.
What a horrible world to live in. Thankfully, in our world, First Second exists and they publish comics for people who don’t ALWAYS need zombies and robots in their funnybooks. As such, Slow Storm lasts 170+ pages and doesn’t look like it was photocopied in the middle of the night at the print shop where the artist works.
Glossy, high quality packaging aside, the actual content of Slow Storm FEELS handmade thanks to Novgorodoff’s expert use of watercolors. She renders her characters as beautifully imperfect as people are--offsetting her somewhat loose style with astonishing detail: litter and debris by a paltry river, an American flag hanging from the back of a fire truck, and even shingles on a McDonald’s roof in the distance. Novgorodoff’s interest is in the details, and that goes for the story, too.
Ursa is an Oldham County, Kentucky firefighter on the verge of a nervous breakdown--seemingly frustrated with herself and the people around her as she works during tornado season. Rafi is an illegal immigrant from Mexico working in an Oldham horse barn. When the barn burns down, Ursa finds Rafi in the wreckage, and eventually they see kindred spirits in one another.
Neither character belongs where they are, and both are prone to fantasy. Rafi sees policemen riding pigs, and he sees the men who bring him across the border as anthropomorphic wolves. He also believes that St. Christopher accompanies him on his trip. There’s a hilarious scene where Rafi jumps the Pearly Gates of Heaven.
Ursa’s visions are more harrowing. For example, an insult unleashes a flurry of inner demons to torment her when she’s supposed to be attending to a fire. While it sounds like the book is heavy on the surreal, these visions are dispersed throughout the book--a unique way to not only spice up the mundane, but make the character’s torment tangible.
Slow Storm isn’t the sort of book you read for a taut, thrilling plot, but for the moments. Moreover, Novgorodoff’s storytelling is adept. She uses the long-form graphic novel to her advantage--leaving room for small moments and silent panels and surreality up until the book’s sad, open-ended conclusion.
Slow Storm is a promising debut book for Novgorodoff. I’d say that I can’t wait to see what she does next, but I already have a copy of her follow-up book, Refresh, so I don’t have to wait.
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