Slow Storm (:01 First Second)

slowstormheader.jpgEisner-nominated artist Danica Novgorodoff explores her surreal side in her full-length debut.

 

173 pgs. Full Color; $17.95

(W / A: Danica Novgorodoff)

 

 

Danica Novgorodoff had already established her comics pedigree before her first full-length work was published. In 2006, she won the Isotope Award for her creative efforts in mini-comics, and the following year she was nominated for an Eisner. Expectations were thus high for her debut graphic novel, Slow Storm, which was released at the beginning of September of this year.

The cover to Slow Storm by Danica Novgorodoff. Click for a larger image.To a small degree, Novgorodoff lived up to these expectations by delivering a book which features some very arresting imagery at times. Her full page illustrations of Kentucky landscapes both set the scene and create a dark mood for the story to be enveloped in. They are brilliantly colored and make heavy use of shadow, as in one such image which features a horse bending down for a drink, both it and its reflection in the water a silhouette to the orange and red of the sunset behind it.

In other scenes, the artwork is less polished, more rough around the edges. These scenes tend to occur when the characters are at their most frazzled, and the art is used to heighten the emotions. Throughout the novel the female lead, a firefighter named Ursa, is constantly berated or subjected to sexist comments by her male colleagues, one of which is her brother. In one scene in particular, when tensions during a fire are at their highest and her brother makes a disparaging remark to her, the art goes haywire as the words echo in her brain and we are made privy to the weight those words carry in her mind.

Such scenes add to the surreal quality of the story. At another point Rafi, an illegal immigrant and the story’s male lead, is remembering his journey from his home in Mexico to America, and the flashbacks end up distorted. The people that help him cross the border are portrayed as literal coyotes, walking upright and wearing clothes, while the border guards ride around on pigs. The sketchy nature of the artwork conveys these more surreal elements of the narrative very well.

It is only when the story is at its most ordinary that the art fails it. Occasionally when characters are interacting with one another, as Ursa and her fellow firefighters do in a moment of quiet at the firehouse, the characters’ poses are exaggerated to the point of abstraction for no clear reason. In other instances, the facial expressions of the characters become almost grotesque in order to fully convey the range of emotion they might be feeling. Sometimes Novgorodoff takes this technique a bit too far, as can be found in a scene towards the end of the novel in which Ursa and Rafi are having a conversation which is overwrought with emotion.

Aside from the inconsistency of the artwork, the story itself feels incomplete. There is not much of a plot to the book in the first place, with Novgorodoff focusing more on mood and theme, bending the plot in contrivance to bring her two main characters together to talk. But when the novel finally reaches its conclusion, there is no clear resolution to what has happened; it just ends. The characters too are rather thinly sketched. We learn a little about Rafi’s background in flashbacks, but Ursa is a cipher. We only see what she deals with in the present and only get a slight insight into her head in occasional bursts. Both characters have their hardships they must face, Rafi that his family is so far away and Ursa the torments of her colleagues, but these details are all we know of them.

Overall, Slow Storm is an interesting debut that is full of mood and quite beautiful when it is at its most abstract. But the novel never fully gives over to its surreal qualities, hanging them on flat characters and a threadbare plot. Sadly the novel falls short of expectations as there is not enough meat to it to really satisfy its audience. | Steve Higgins

Click here to read a 10-page excerpt courtesy of :01 First Second.

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