September 5, 2013

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SPX/Baltimore Comic-Con Spotlight 2013: Monica Gallagher and Gods & Undergrads

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Welcome also to my 2013 Baltimore Comic-Con Spotlight entries. Over the course of this week, I will also be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at another of my favorite conventions, the Baltimore Comic-ConYou can check out all of my spotlights for the Baltimore Comic-Con from both this year and prior years here.

As we prepare to wrap up the spotlights on the Baltimore Comic-Con, it's only fair that hometown creator Monica Gallagher gets to be featured. A former roller derby player, Gallagher's has several web comics and other projects to her name and is recently moving towards mainstream indie work by collaborating as the artist on the Oni Press book, Glitter Kiss, along with writer Adrianne Ambrose.

One of Gallagher's main projects is Gods & Undergrads, a webcomic that she periodically collects into book form. The third book will debut at SPX this year, which means that now is a great time for me to review the first two volumes.

Gods & Undergrads is the story of Lelaina, a young woman trying to deal with the perils of college relationships, made more complicated by personal quirks that we come to find aren't a result of just being different. She's a demi-goddess, and possibly holds the key to bringing back all of the Greek Gods, both good and evil. Faced with betrayal from friends, danger due to her powers, and the desire to try to have her own life, Lelaina is caught up in a mess of struggles that make for compelling reading.

In some ways, Gods & Undergrads has the feel of a shojo manga in terms of its basic plot. However, in both style and substance, Gallagher is forging her own path. Lelaina has many issue and is conflicted, sure, but she's by no means helpless at the hands of others or shown as reactive, which are frequent elements of shojo. She is as proactive as possible, given the circumstances, which often are impossible for anyone to control. Very early on, she kicks the balls of a guy who tries to molest her at a party. When told she *has* to prevent horrible things from happening to a man who cheated on she Lelaina has a very normal reaction--WHY?

The choices made by the characters in Gods & Undergrads are very complicated and have repercussions all along the line. When close friends and roommates get into romantic entanglements, the end result often is bad for everyone involved. Gallagher shows that, and ramps up the consequences with the fact that some of the people involved have destructive powers.

For this all to work, we have to have a cast that we can care about, even if we don't like them. For example, Linden is a class-A jerk, but it's that quality which makes him interesting as a force in Lelaina's life. We quickly want to know why Lelaina is different, why Anneke befriends her without much warning, and just how these characters--who will definitely remind you of people you knew in college--will deal with the fallout from the inevitable conflicts the reader can see a mile away--even if the characters cannot.

Gallagher does a great job of writing realistic dialogue and situations, taking pains to not let anyone become too good or too evil, tripping the balance and falling into easy tropes. These characters smoke, drink underage, have sex if they're so inclined, and generally live their lives in ways that feel real, even as Gallagher slips unnatural things from the world of Greek Myth into the storyline. They make bad decisions, too, and the revelation of secrets that should never have happened at all play a big part in the plot as soon as things get moving.

Because this is a comic that's evolved over time, a reader can watch Gallagher's style improve as the books move further along. Her art in the first chapter is a bit on the rough side, showing potential that's realized as the story progresses. You'll find some flat panels, stiff movement, and some odd anatomy in the early going. Gallagher relies a bit too hard on letting the story rely on stopping and staring at the reader to have them speak their mind, a trait that's reduced by book two, but still hurts the overall flow of the narrative here and there.

Once we move into Book 2, Gallagher is hitting her stride. Little things, like the body posture of Artemis in her scenes or the really creepy work with the Furies (instruments of revenge on a college campus works out about as you'd imagine) show an artistic growth that helps the visuals match up with the deepening of the story itself.

Gods & Undergrads is a great concept, and as huge fan of mythology, particularly Greek mythology, the blending of 20-something angst with the menace/hope of the return of the Gods is right in my wheelhouse. If either of those things interests you, then you'll want to pick up Gods & Undergrads, either at Baltimore or SPX.

In addition to Gods & Undergrads, Gallagher has several mini-comics (I reviewed two of them here) as well as Bonnie N. Collide (featuring a roller derby character who seems to always be in costume), prints, and other items that will be available at both shows. She should also have copies of Glitter Kiss.

Monica is a creator with a vivid imagination who also grounds her stories in the day-to-day life that we in the real world know so well. If that's your thing--it's definitely mine--you'll find lots to like in her work.

Think SPX and Baltimore are only a myth, so you won't be attending either show? You can find Monica on the web here, with links to buy her comics online.