January 23, 2009

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Skeleton Key Volume 1

Written by Andi Watson
Illustrated by Andi Watson
SLG

I still have trouble believing Andi Watson is a guy, but I'm basically resigned to it by this time. He just writes--or at least seems to write--female characters so well, and in male cartoonists, that's a rare trait. (Name a positive female character written by Eisner, for instance. No, no, I'll wait. Thought so.)

This time around, in a pseudo-Mignola style that I wasn't expecting, we have the story of a teenage girl stuck in Garfield, Canada. Her parents, ex-hippies that settled down to middle-class jobs, don't pay her much attention, and she is of course an exile at school. Her only happy moment is a rather odd decision by this town to hold a Day of the Dead parade. Our heroine buys a costume that comes with a little something extra. When she tries to return the misplaced item, she gets drawn into a rather strange option--a key that will take her almost anywhere. Now she has a fox-human friend, three rather scary enemies, and the need to help her only friend. What will happen next? Well, you'll just have to read to find out.

Watson does a nice job setting this up--he has to establish Tamsin's world before he can go all goofy, and he does it in a way that doesn't make you wish for the action to start. The artwork is rather blocky, which helps with the atmosphere but occasionally makes it hard to tell what's going on. The fox-woman is a great side character, good for comic relief--you can't go wrong with the stranger in a strange land bit--and also full of surprises. He also does a neat thing with the old monster-in-the-closet deal that I won't spoil here. The dialog feels real, too, and, as with his other books, you get the impression that we have a perfectly normal girl getting thrust into a situation she never imagined. That's not an easy trick, but reading it is a treat!