December 2, 2019

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Skottie Young May Be Known For His Cute Variants But Let Us Not Forget He Is Capable Of Stories Like Middlewest Too


writer: Skottie Young
artist: Jorge Corona
colors: Jean-Francois Beaulieu
lettering: Nate Piekos
publisher: Image

Things I read that cause me to introspectively examine myself tend to gain more than the average amount of respect for itself. While consuming stories are typically reserved for its intended entertainment purposes or for moments that beg for temporary thought displacement, every once in a while a story emerges, revealing itself as something of yourself in a way you hadn't before imagined. These unexpected moments of truth shape the person you will become just so long as you happen to read the story at a time in which your mind was ready. Middlewest was that story for me, and even though the exact circumstances being told are not a direct parallel to my own existence, I still managed to uncover the theme underneath the overall foundation of its elements. This is when reading becomes more than just fun; this is when reading becomes essential.

I find much of my reading of comic books to be somewhat routine, and by no means do I regard this as a bad thing. I willingly spend more cash each month on comics than I do for fuel in my gas guzzling pickup truck. (Yes, I have a pickup truck, and, yes, I am actively trying to swap it out for something more suitable for my lack of a need for "picking things up".) During a period of routine reading I caught wind of Middlewest, the story of Abel, a young boy on his quest for truth. Solicited paraphrasing of this comic book didn't quite grab my attention so much as did the actual reading of this epic and moving tale. At first glance, this is a boy running away, seeking refuge from his get-mad-and-yell-at-everything father in search of something he has yet to realize. As I read further and allowed myself to dig beneath the surface of the tone, it was then that I realized how relatable Abel's situation was. Drifting further in thought I considered the possibility that this silly story of a father who transforms into a funnel cloud when angry could help humans of all ages realize their own faults and eventual consequences to similar actions. 

As outbursts of rage and pent up anger materialize into funnel clouds and weather patterns capable of destruction beyond any believable degree, so is also our own realization of similarly personal things. At the surface this story may seem like an apocalyptic domestic tale of fiction, or simply just another fairytale told in format of panels and thought bubbles. It is so much more than just that. 

Reaching back to the beginning of Middlewest we are introduced to a violent and verbally abusive broken home, not a far reach of fiction for some people, but not necessarily an immediately relatable narrative for myself either. Abel and his father, Dale, begin this story with an unsettling foundation that becomes necessary in order to enable what follows as believable. Truth be told, it was somewhat uncomfortable reading the way in which Dale would speak to Abel in these early panels. What came next was what motioned the momentum of understanding of what the underlying message became to be. Eventually, Abel runs off and befriends a fox after his father's funnel of anger became one time too many. This fleeting act of refuge in a place unknown eventually finds Abel at mercy of a carnival when his own funnel cloud is revealed causing destructible damage that only indentured servitude as assigned by the ringleader, Maggie, would be considered as repayment. What comes as the surprise to Abel, and the reader, is that these people soon become Abel's biggest cheerleaders in becoming a better version of himself as his quest to understand why he is who he is continues.

Any large story told in the format of a monthly comic needs a tasteful element of fiction perceivable to the common reader and cleverly disguised so that it is more than just a necessary discussion of a topic oft avoided. Anger, rage, verbal abuse, and violence are difficult emotions to talk about when it involves someone you love, especially if that person is you. It is nearly impossible to imagine a comfortably safe space outside of therapy that would allow this discussion to take place. Choosing to use comics as a place to discuss these things as depictions of extreme weather was not what I was expecting Middlewest to be. It took me by a rather large surprise when I came to my own "ah-ha" moment and realized that Abel was struggling with his own inability to overcome his natural mutation to that painfully familiar swirling bundle of clouds just as his father did when he got angry with him. Settling on this realization is strangely comforting when it normalizes these feelings of despair and confusion within yourself. As humans of all ages read this comic they will notice these subtle similarities in which will also open the possibility to self-reflect and improve and shift our own tendency to revert naturally toward negative upbringings of our past. 

It's easy to fall into a trap of assuming nothing will improve as we settle on the idea that we are doomed to bare the weight of repeated actions of our past. It is easy to assume this, and then retreat into a rebellious sprint in the other direction as we ignore this opportunity for rational self-evaluation. Currently in the story we are witnessing Abel run from the truth as he learns it, isolating himself from everyone who seems to care. By doing this he may find himself victimized by the manipulating lies of a newly introduced character, Nicolas Raider. Not knowing yet how exactly this arc will transpire urges me to continue reading and reminds me of the consequences of having uncharted territory journeyed upon assuming that the struggle is met with an empty heart and a fleeting soul. As said before, my past is not necessarily the same as the one Abel is presently living in Middlewest, but what is similar is the realization of who I am versus where I came from. Hopefully, in the end Abel is able to use this knowledge as the foothold needed to pivot away from those tendencies about the nature of hisself and become a better version of the person in which he already is. 

Every story has a narrative while also it has a visual. Utilizing the two so that they build and grow with each other instead of in their own directions sometimes gets lost in the panels. Middlewest is a world that feels lived in while also feels jagged. It feels large, and it feels small. The narrative is speaking to my mind and my soul, while the art is somehow doing also. I will be the first to admit that I do not completely understand how the best way to tell a cohesive story through comics both in narrative and in illustrations, but I do know that it is probably something similar to the feeling of placing a new vinyl on your player followed by a gentle drop of the needle.. hiss.. crackle.. hiss.. music.. ahh. Yes, that is feeling and that is the cohesive tone felt as I read Middlewest. The story feels like one thing, not two separate. The colors, the lines, the words, it all feels like one single story and I am here for it. 

This is a tale that uplifts the idea that you are who you are while not determined by which where you came. Though the road is turbulent as we seek out a safe place for our thoughts to be trusted when left alone, it should also be reminded that the struggles endured help us to be the person we are to become. As a person who has had lifelong struggles with self-depreciative thoughts coupled with episodes of periodic anxiety, I find this collaborative story to be biographical in a sense that I am seeking out my own refuge and meaning in life as I also struggle with the what's and who's of where I have come from. This story of a boy and a fox represents so much of who we are as a species regardless of our actual circumstance that the similarities in all our parallels are impossible to overlook. Me, a nearly forty year old husband and father of two would presumably have his shit together and have no reason to feel lost, isolated, or frustrated, but with this story and with these characters I am able to dilute my perceptions so that I am able to see too the consistent trend of imperfections and struggles in those who are relating here also.

Pick up Middlewest vol. 1 & 2, in stores now. Issue 12 started the new volume and is also in stores now.

Middlewest Vol.1 (out now)
Middlewest Vol.2 (out now)
Middlewest issue 12 (out now)
Middlewest issue 13 (out December 18th)