Sunday, February 26, 2012

Comic Review: Friends with Boys

No I didn't run out of movies/tv shows to review again, I decided the circumstances were right to break with my normal schedule for today. Starting Thursday the 1st I'm going to keep my normal Sunday, Monday, Friday, Saturday update schedule but, like last March, I'm going to spend the entire month reviewing webcomics instead and initially this comic was going to be talked about then. Then I found out this was less of a webcomic and more of a graphic novel that was being put online in it's entirety as a preview and that all but the first 16 pages were going to be taken down in a week and a half so I really couldn't wait until April to actually review this. So in light of all of that, plus my next tv review was going to be the first season of Life on Mars and really didn't want a month plus gap in the reviews between seasons, I'm just going to be different today and talk about Friends with Boys.

As mentioned above, the comic is actually a graphic novel that has just been put up online as a preview of sorts for the physical copy (which comes out any day now) and was done by Faith Erin Hicks whose works I've reviewed a few times before here. Unlike the last one I talked about, Brain Camp, she not only did all the artwork but also came up with the story much like her other work I've seen, The War at Ellsmere, and I was curious how that would work. I was a bit cautious about trying this one out because of the hype surrounding it (sadly I just don't seem to like a lot of webcomics that have a lot of hype surrounding them, not sure why but it just seems to be the case) but now I would like to add to the hype and say yes, this was really pretty good.

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
Summary: Maggie, like her three older brothers, has been home-schooled all her life and is now starting her freshman year in high school in the local public school system which makes it even more terrifying than high school normally is. But while it was her parent's and her brothers' decision to go to a public high school instead of continuing with home-schooling Maggie doesn't have that choice, her mother has recently left (it's implied that it's partially the stress of having to home-school four kids) which has left an understandably big gap in her life. So Maggie must deal with all of this, make friends with the people whom her family doesn't like and figure out what the deal is with a local ghost that likes to haunt her. 

The Good: Ever since my parents separated when I was 16 I've been keeping a close eye out for books that deal well with that wonderful situation and Friends with Boys does a better job than most stories I've seen. My situation and Maggie's are really different but that raw feeling of unhappiness that sometimes seems like it's consuming your entire life is pretty accurate and I wasn't surprised to see that Hicks based quite a few things in the story off of her own life. Some of the high school bits seemed a bit off to me but since I went to a small, private high school and I didn't see anyone else complaining about that I think that's just me and that the setting also holds up well. Maggie was a fun main character, her brothers felt like brothers, and the story also felt like it was paced just right.  

The Bad: I was hoping for a slightly more substantial ending but, since life sometimes doesn't exactly resolve itself but rather simply continues, it works (and it helps that Hicks herself said she was expecting a different resolution as well and was surprised that this was what fit the best). It was rather frustrating that Maggie's father, who seemed like a sane, reasonable parent in his initial appearances, seems to be suddenly grasping the idiot ball at the climax where he refuses to listen her and judges others on their looks, especially since in his initial scene he was having to change his appearance because of how other would judge the new sheriff if he had long hair. That little bit ended up bothering me a lot more than the entire climax (since I can at least sympathize that when your world is that that confusing that you are going to do stupid stuff, although Maggie's actions were pushing that a bit). 

The Art: It's interesting to compare the art here to the art in her currently on-going webcomic, The Adventures of Superhero Girl, since it's clear from the character designs that this is the same artist but there's a lot more detail work, the backgrounds are more complex and there's a lot more shading. I like how her style looks here*, the character designs are distinctive and a little quirky looking, as I said there's a lot of nice details everywhere you look, and in general I prefer pen and ink shading to using a lot of screen tones**. It looks cartoony but in a very natural-ish way, not as if Hicks set out to draw things in a "cartoon style" but that this is her normal style which is simply cartoon influenced. I do think the drawing of Maggie on the cover looks a bit odd, probably because an upward looking angle on most people simply isn't flattering, but other than that I didn't have any problems with the art at all.

So, my favorite work by Faith Erin Hicks and I'll be sure to grab a physical copy sometime. Like I said, for the next week and a half it's still up online and I would really encourage everyone to check it out and see how you like it. Oh and if you do check it out make sure to look at the author's comments under the pages, Hicks has a lot of great blog posts about working in comics, why Fullmetal Alchemist is an awesome manga, and on homeschooling. I believe those blog posts will stay up after the rest of the comic goes down and I really encourage people to look at those as well. 

*and in ASG but that's for later in the week
** I blame reading too much shojo for that one, I've just seen so many series that abuse the screentones that it often comes out looking cheap to me.