August 24, 2010

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Clubbing

Written by Andi Watson
Illustrated by Josh Howard
Minx

Anyone who's followed my reviews for awhile knows that I really wish DC had given the Minx line a chance, but alas, it was not meant to be, and this was before the company really started down the road of extreme testosterone they seem bound and determined to follow.

Part of Minx's problems, however, came in relation to how they marketed the line. Take this book, for instance. It's written by Andi Watson, who know how to create a strong female lead. It features a strong, independent teen who's not afraid to be a "bad girl" if she thinks it's the right thing to do.

Our heroine, Lottie, works to make the best of her situation, solves a mystery, and saves the day in the end. She's active, quick-witted, and far from perfect. It's a character that Watson should be proud of creating, and one that should have made at least a dent in teen comic reading.

However, what does this book get saddled with in terms of a title? Clubbing, complete with a blurry set of teen girls doing...well, I'm not sure...dancing? Meanwhile, Lottie is Photoshopped into a country field, which doesn't tell us much of anything.

It's really no wonder that these books were not a commercial success. If I didn't know Watson from his other great books, I'd never have bothered with this one. As it is, I'm glad I did.

Lottie is an underage clubber who gets caught and sent to live with her grandparents in the boonies. She's less than thrilled to be taken out of her goth life, and who can blame her? The only teen in her vicinity "looks like a hobbit" on first glance, and isn't the most friendly person in the world. It's going to be an awful summer, even if her relatives mean well.

What makes this story so good, however, is that Lottie is never whiny about her situation--only frank in her opinion of it not being where she wants to live. She tries to find people to fit in with, but doesn't dwell too long when this doesn't work out. Instead, she moves on and soon we hit on the main mystery that drives the plot.

I think my favorite part of Clubbing is the resolution of this mystery. Lottie, as makes perfect sense, starts to get interested in the possibility that her perfect boring world is more than it seems. Watson leaves the clues for the reader to follow, while also allowing it may all be in Lottie's head. The ending, which flips several conventions on their head, ties everything together neatly but doesn't go for a perfect finish.

Watson's willingness to play with traditional ideas but re-frame them in a way that gives an old story concept a fresh twist works very well here. In the process, he's not afraid to comment on those traditional ideas, either, but it doesn't dominate the plot. By this, I mean that if he's doing meta-commentary, it's because it makes sense, not because Watson wants to show how cool he can be. (That's my big problem with a lot of genre-tweaking writers. They want us all to know how clever they are, and end up ruining the story itself.)

As with the best Minx titles, this one compares favorably with similar stories from Oni Press, a few of which Watson wrote. Josh Howard's illustration style reminds me of the Oni relationship comic format, with a lot of simple line work and only as much background illustration as is needed for the story. His characters look like real people, too, if just a bit more angular. Lottie is pretty, but not in a fantasized way. Similarly, her grandparents are heavyset, but look as though they can still move around.

I don't know if you can still get a copy of Clubbing, but I liked the book a bunch. Watson turns in yet another good script and Howard adapts it in a style that fits Watson's own illustrations. I just wish this book lived at a publisher that cared about it, because it's a hidden gem. Try to find it if you can, if you like indie relationship comics featuring teens that act like typical (if a bit special) teens. You'll be glad you did.